With two days left for my internship on the BigO’s business desk, I feel anxious.
I have three stories still in the works, only one of which has reached the desk of my editor. Add to that a cubicle to clean out, people to thank and a roomful of clothes that need to be packed.
But as I left the Observer today, I found myself thinking of my-soon-to-be-over internship rather than what I needed to get done before Friday. This summer has been a dream. It’s been hard, and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve produced some downright miserable first drafts of stories. But since the first day I tiptoed into that quiet, U-shaped newsroom, I’ve been happy to come to work, eager to learn from my editors and colleagues and confident in their ability to teach me.
I came into this internship expecting to write briefs, a few dailies and maybe one or two quality enterprise stories that I could use as clips for my resume.
I’m leaving with much more than that: A new assurance in my skills as a business reporter that comes from, well, being a better writer. And the improvement in my story-telling stems from an improvement in my reporting.
My editors have taught me how to research better, how to become an expert on a topic in a week, and how to ask myself “How does this story fit into the world at large?” As a reporter, it’s easy to focus in on one issue, on one story. It’s not as easy to remember to show an audience why that issue is important in their lives right now.
For example : I wrote a business profile on DesignLine International, a Charlotte-based hybrid bus manufacturer. I went to plant, watched them put together steel frames for the blue and green buses and spent an hour talking with the CEO. I asked the “hard-hitting” questions.
Stuff like: Your buses cost $200,000 than regular ones, how do you expect to attract customers?
(They’ve applied for government grants that will allow for a buyer to only pay half of the $500,000 price tag. The federal government pays the rest.)
And: Do you think you’re overly reliant on government funding?
(No. They say loyal customers will still buy buses from them, just smaller orders.)
I wrote what I thought was a complete, nearly flawless story. Wham, bam, thank you Sam, done in a couple days. But when my editor met with me about the story, I was horrified to see the yellow markings all over the page. The story had holes, because there was nothing that indicated why the reader should care about it, my editor said.
I needed to talk to green transportation industry groups, get data on the number of hybrid vehicles being sold and the number of green companies/companies creating new eco-friendly policies as marketing tools in Charlotte.
What? I was thinking, all this for a business profile?
Still, I took my editors advice and spent a week talking to an industry group and gathering the numbers I needed. The story ran as the business center piece soon after.
While it’s not the most compelling thing I did all summer, It taught me well.
Yes, I learned about proxy statements and federal earning reports and how to run background checks on every person or company that goes in a story. But what I will remember most from my Observer internship is a question.
“How does this fit story fit into the world at large?”