By Jessica Chin
Every young journalism student aspires to work with the big dogs one day. Everyone applies for an internship with organizations such as Buzzfeed, VICE and the New York Times. And why not? Big names mean wider readership, wider recognition.
What many journalism undergraduates don’t consider doing is going local after they graduate. But I still remember the advice Professor Dean Miller gave us in my freshman journalism class: Go local first and build up your experience, even if you have to go to the middle of nowhere. As an intern for The New York Times, you’ll likely just be running around getting coffee for people. If you go local, you’ll rack up experience.
This spring, I followed his advice and went local at Blank Slate Media, a group of six weeklies that cover Nassau County. I don’t regret it.
Although the internship was remote, meaning I wasn’t able to work in their office, I still gained valuable experience and developed a relationship with my editor, Noah Manskar. Noah consistently gave me assignments and feedback, something I was not accustomed to from the student editors at Stony Brook. The student editors rarely gave me feedback; instead, they just published my stories, sometimes changing things without consulting me at first.
At Blank Slate, the copy editor, Bill Dicke, and Noah always talked with me before changing anything in my story. If they were confused about what I meant, they always asked for clarification. I always verified information with my sources. This constant consultation taught me professionalism, communication and transparency. For example, when I realized I had made a mistake in one of my stories, I contacted Noah so he could fix it. He thanked me for bringing it to his attention and fixed it immediately.
For Blank Slate, I went to a variety of board meetings. I went to library, school and local government board meetings. These meetings taught me to do the legwork and go to the story. But I also learned that many passionate and interesting characters attend these meetings. I was surprised at how deeply people care about their school, library or village. When I wrote my stories, I knew that although I didn’t have a national audience, I had a dedicated local audience.
When you work in local news, there is always a story, always a readership. People want to know what’s happening in their local community, and I was doing them a service by providing them with quality news.
In addition to covering local board meetings, I also wrote feature stories. These stories usually highlighted exceptional people in the county. I enjoyed these stories because they became very personal. The last story I wrote for Blank Slate was about the late Hannah Kroner, a Holocaust survivor who had opened her own dance school. After speaking with Mrs. Kroner’s daughter and former students, I felt I really needed to deliver her story well. I didn’t let them down. This was the first time I really cared about the people I was writing a story about.
I learned that writing local stories is not only personal but important. The people you write stories about really want their stories to be heard and are thankful for your involvement. Although not on a grand scale, I was making an impact in people’s lives.
My hard work soon paid off because Noah offered me a paid internship with Blank Slate Media this summer. Although it’s not The New York Times, it’s a stepping-stone that I gladly took.