If you want to feel like a valuable team player, land an internship at a small-town newspaper. Here at The Campbellsport News, a weekly publication based in a village 16 miles southeast of Fond du Lac, I make up 50 percent of the reporting staff. It’s a great first internship because 1) it motivates me to use these 10 weeks to take some weight off the shoulders of my editor and give her some days off because she works crazy hard year-round, and 2) it drives me to produce journalism for the readers that the editor typically doesn’t have time to cover as the only reporter. (She’s handed over her “ideas folder” to me containing years’ worth of leads that she never could get around to.)
The Campbellsport News’ goal is to get me to do everything that a small-town news staffer does. Since starting on June 18, I’ve conducted plenty of interviews, written feature stories, snapped and edited photos, proofread news copy and laid out pages. And what’s fun is I don’t have set daily hours. I come when the work needs to be started and leave when it’s finished. It’s rewarding to see the result of our staff’s work every Wednesday morning when the latest issue arrives fresh off the press.
One habit I’m changing during this internship is I was always overly reliant on my digital recorder during interviews. Here in Campbellsport, I’m challenging myself to interview with only a notepad and pen. Admittedly I lose great quotes when my memory fails me mid-frantic-scribble, but otherwise my note-taking has strengthened without the audio to fall back on. I no longer spend an afternoon transcribing 90 minutes of audio, and my sources are more comfortable because they’re unrecorded.
Speaking of sources, everyone I’ve met so far has been very friendly. They’re always happy to interview with me or tell me their name after I snap a candid photo of them at an event. I’ve profiled fascinating people including the owner of a backyard obstacle course, a couple fascinating marathon runners and a tuba player whose body has taken a toll from numerous car accidents and chemical-spraying jobs. As cliché as it is to say, in journalism you really are doing something different every day, so it never feels like a “job.”
My upcoming weeks will throw some unfamiliar challenges at me, like photographing the county fair, covering school board and village board meetings and reporting on sentencing hearings. I’ll have many questions and inevitably some embarrassing moments, but I’m glad I’m learning these things now while I’m still in college. The struggles are much easier to overcome when you have a supportive staff and a town full of delightful residents.
To get your feet wet at a Wisconsin newspaper in summer 2015 as I am doing this year, check out the WNA Foundation Internship Program for more information.