Ask a million questions

  • August 1, 2019

By Felicia LaLomia

Last December, when I wrote emails to about 20 different food and drink-focused publications asking for internships, I had no idea what would come of it. Sending the email equivalent of a cold-call blindly into the internet, I set my expectations low. There was no incentive for any of these editors to get back to me. 

So when an email popped up in my inbox a few days later from one of these publications, I got excited. VinePair wanted to interview me. After one phone call and one in-person meeting, I had landed the job. But my work had really only begun.

Looking at their website, it was clear VinePair covers beer, wine and spirits. But the content itself was very specific—and, to me, overwhelming. Articles about blackstrap rum, terroir, and sherry facing an identity crisis filled their home page. I was pretty lost just looking at the headlines. 

On my first day, I took the M train 40 minutes from my shared two-bedroom apartment in Ridgewood, Queens to the 23rd Street station in Manhattan. I found the building, went to the front desk, got an elevator pass and headed up to the fifth floor. When I opened the door to suite 512, I was surprised. The office was small, about ten desks set up in an open concept. My editor and supervisor for the summer, Cat Wolinski, greeted me and showed me to my workspace for the next 10 weeks, a high-top table in the back that I would be sharing with the design intern. It all felt very start-up-y. 

But what I learned over the next 70 days was incredible. My main task was to cover most of the Booze News articles. Basically, when anything relevant happened in the alcohol industry, I wrote up a short article on it. Topics I covered ranged from studies on drinking booze before bed, to Disney’s new boozy popsicles, to the Jim Beam warehouse fire. 

When I wasn’t doing that, I was up to a myriad of other tasks. Requesting samples from alcohol companies, cataloguing the beer fridge (yes, VinePair has a fridge filled with beer) and writing my own features. 

What I appreciate about this internship is that I felt like I was working in a real newsroom. No, not the News 12 or Newsday kind. But I still had to drop whatever I was working on to write up a time-sensitive story on hard seltzer’s domination of Fourth of July booze sales or a Busch pop-up in the middle of an undisclosed forest. 

I also was able to pitch my own story ideas in the editorial meeting every Monday. Knowing that my knowledge of alcohol was minuscule compared to the fellow staff writers, I didn’t try to write about esoteric (to me, at least) topics that would require tons of research for me to just understand the topic before writing the specifics of the article. 

The things I chose to report on included following around a bartender and, later, a beverage director, to observe what their jobs are really like, from the romantic, cool parts, to the nitty-gritty, laborious parts. I also wrote about the age gates that alcohol websites voluntarily put up and how they redirect when someone underage comes along. 

Throughout the internship, I worked with the marketing and design interns on creating four master classes in the form of email newsletters. These were targeted toward beer, wine and liquor novices who wanted to learn more in an easy-to-read format. I was in charge of choosing and writing the content. Through research, I learned so much about booze and how to write about it. 

If I could go back, I am not sure that I would do anything differently. Sure, I made mistakes and asked too many questions. But with every mistake and question, I learned something and became more knowledgeable in a field I am trying to enter. It also didn’t hurt that I was paid and had access to free booze. (Full disclosure: I am 21 years of age.)

To the SOJ student who is intimidated by the field, take an internship that scares you. I know it seems terrifying and like you will be the stupidest person in the room, but that’s okay. You probably will be, but you’re the intern. You’re supposed to ask a million questions and be the one who messes up. Lord knows I did. Better to screw up now than in the field.

@SBUJournalism

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