My opinion of Opinions: a dream come true

  • May 1, 2017

By Jager Robinson

I’ve been lucky enough to write two of these memoirs now. In my first one, I spoke about finding my calling as a journalist and loving my time as an intern at a weekly newspaper in South Dakota. In this one, I’ll explore how I’ve realized that I’m not always right the first time.

In the Spring 2017 semester, I worked at Newsday right here on Long Island. Specifically, I’ve been writing for Newsday’s Opinions section. Opinions is my bread and butter. I wrote opinion pieces in South Dakota and for The Statesman on campus, and doing it semiprofessionally has been an honor. I truly couldn’t think of a better field to be in, one that combines what I love most about writing and journalism. Finding your voice through text isn’t a fun task, but when you find it, it’s like sailing on a cloud.

At Newsday, I worked almost exclusively with the website rather than the print newspaper. Basically, I ran an almost weekly column exclusively for The 10-person Opinions staff that surrounded me three days a week was a dream team of reporters and writers to learn from.

The first lesson I had to learn, and the hardest, was that I’m not on top. In South Dakota, there were only three of us at the paper. It’s hard to ignore someone in an office of three people, believe me. But at Newsday, I had to learn that the established staff writers and editors got top priority and that I was there to observe. I’m a bit of a narcissist anyway, but every new experience — at Stony Brook or in the workplace — has taught me to be humbler, and I appreciate that.

My workday was often filled with reading dozens of news articles and reports to craft one decent column that the Opinions section could feature. For example, over the course of a week, I read more than 10 news reports about the complex issues our national infrastructure is facing and then called a representative from the American Society of Civil Engineers to get his take on the issue. After two days of reporting, I wrote an article that was eventually featured on both the website and in the newspaper later the next week. Overall, I averaged about one published piece a week.

The problem with my internship, and the thing I’d advise anyone reading this to avoid, was my schedule. I applied and was accepted to the internship late, which means I had already made my class schedule, and that was my first mistake. I missed most of the morning meetings of Newsday’s editorial board, which is where the editors and writers sit down and plan the day’s work, and that was incredibly unfortunate. I never got the chance to truly engage with everyone the way I wanted to, and that is my biggest regret. For the few morning meetings I did attend, I got to witness Opinions editor Rita Ciolli and the rest of the board methodically plan the next day’s paper and daily newsletter.

Even so, I learned a great deal from the various writers. Lane Filler, Michael Dobie and Randi Marshall taught me to craft an opinions story and bring out my voice. Rita Ciolli and Eli Reyes, the main editors, let me watch as they ran an entire section of the paper with ease — although they’d probably argue that it was easy.  Sam Guzik and Amanda Fiscina, the web editors, are masters are weaving journalism and online presence. Larry Striegel, Anne Michaud, and Victoria Rigney-Ramirez do an amazing job pulling together the unappreciated aspects of the section such as copy editing and managing the letters to the editor. And to top it all off, I got to sit down and talk to Matt Davies, the paper’s political cartoonist — whom everyone reading this should already know. Funny enough, I actually knew Matt’s dad before I met Matt, as his dad frequently stops into my mother’s restaurant in Connecticut.

Everything I learned from these 10 people will stick with me.

But here’s the thing: It’s not all rainbows. There were struggles, annoying moments and even depressing moments. Stories weren’t accepted, paragraphs were removed, spirits were dampened. Hell, even my ego was bruised as word after word was altered to achieve better phrasing. I wish I had known how hard it is to work for Opinions before I took on this internship, because I would have at least come in less of a know-it-all.

The biggest issue with taking this internship, and the biggest piece of advice I can give, is to balance your work. If I were to do it again, I’d redo everything in a heartbeat, but I wish I had done this internship just a semester earlier. I took my senior project course — JRN 490 — and the internship at Newsday at the same time, forcing me to split my time and my attention most days. I regret that.

Working at Newsday, at least at the Opinions section, was a dream come true. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of people to work with. But if you’re going to follow me, then at least prepare better than I did—and, if you take away only one thing from this, dedicate your mornings to Newsday on the days you go to work.