Being a journalist — not just a student journalist

  • January 3, 2022
Being a journalist — not just a student journalist

By Julio Taku

I had the pleasure and opportunity to work as the news intern for NPR affiliate WSHU Public Radio this fall . I worked under the editorial direction of two SOCJ adjuncts who both work at WSHU, Terence Sheridan, the station’s news director, and JD Allen, the assistant news director. I learned to write news stories to be published within the same day or,  if not, on the day after.

Before taking on this internship, I wasn’t really in tune to local news or even the bigger stories in the region. I followed local media and news stations so I could stay up-to-date on  regular happenings in my area. As far as news in the greater tri-state area, I was pretty uninformed. With this internship, I was writing the news in real time and creating scripts to be read on air within hours of completion and final edits. Creating news that was so time sensitive was an incredible experience. While all journalists write and create with attention to timeliness and relevance, it was wild to see the real-time effect of a web story I wrote before noon being used by people in Connecticut, New York or New Jersey to decide how they were going to navigate the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus.

One of my responsibilities was writing cut-and-copies, which were basically scripts with 15-to-20-second long audio clips that are read on air. Two versions for the same story are written with different audio clips to add variety for the listeners and for the reporter delivering it. The second responsibility was to write web copies, which were stories to be published on the WSHU website.

During my second or third week at the internship, JD and I attended an on-campus press conference for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. It was my first time being in a live news conference as a reporter. Senator Gillibrand’s publicist, assistant and security were all in attendance as well as News12 correspondents and photographers. I set up my mic at the podium, tested my recorder and then made small talk with the other reporters while Senator Gillibrand made her way to campus.

The task of transcribing and editing the audio I had recorded was easy to do in the office, where it was nice and quiet. Of course, me being a music lover, I would break the silence with some Smokey Robinson & The Miracles or Gap Band. This tranquility makes the WSHU office such a relaxing work environment. The office is situated in the SoCJ wing of the library, so there’s Starbucks right downstairs for those who need a caffeine fix. It’s an ideal location both for students who live on campus and for commuters like myself. I didn’t have to factor in a new commute to my schedule, and I kept my gas bills at a decent level. As a college student – that’s important.

I learned how best to write for radio and to simplify my writing so it can be read easily. Sometimes as journalists, we write beautiful, grammatically correct sentences that are far too long to be practical. Prose for prose’s sake, chock full of commas, semicolons and em dashes, could never be read in one breath. My writing and editing style now reflect that knowledge. 

I also learned the scale of what my work can do and how far it can reach. Between the radio broadcasts and the web copy, my work could reach between 5 million and 33 million people. The work you do in this office affects people in real time. It really affirmed me in stepping into my title and role as a journalist. I am not only a student studying journalism – I am a journalist. I have bylines, a page dedicated to my work and a team of people who can speak to my abilities. That kind of reassurance can be truly empowering especially for a college student. While the world views you as an adult, it also trivializes some of your experiences and abilities in regards to your career. It can be demoralizing sometimes when you look at the state of journalism and the world at large and think it’s impossible to effect change. Here, you witness in real time how your work reaches millions.