The last time I blogged about my internship experience in Washington, D.C. was less than two weeks into my time at Religion News Service. I came to Washington, D.C. armed with a couple of canned classroom news articles, a handful of public relations stories and a whole lot of encouragement back home. I wasn’t exactly the most qualified person to become a reporter in our nation’s capitol city. Quite frankly, I was worried that I couldn’t do it, that I was unqualified. This semester taught me a lot about who I was and what I could do.
At the end of the second week, I attended my first congressional hearing. The topic of the day was Sikhs pushing for more legal protections. They want the government to track hate crimes against them and other minority groups not yet being tracked. It included moving testimony from a survivor of the Oak Creek, Wis. shooting, whose mother was killed.
The following week I covered the story of the anti-Muslim ads in New York’s subway system. While I didn’t feel like this was one of my better stories content wise, it was my most viewed story (from what I can tell) on On Faith. It was shared 152 times on Facebook and 31 times on Twitter.
The next week, I tackled two poll stories.
The first addressed how most Americans don’t believe that Scientology was a real religion. While doing my research, I came to the conclusion that Scientologists remind me of a used car salesmen. They’re slick, and they use deceptive figures that don’t add up. They’re too nice, and they only tell you what they want you to hear. They put on a well-polished act, but in the end, no one would give me the information that I wanted.
The second story was about a poll that showed that Most Americans don’t mind religious athletes showing their faith on and off the field through religious gestures, prayers and comments. It is because of this story that Tim Tebow’s picture show’s up next to mine when you Google my name (trust me—I’m not complaining about that!).
Week five was a crazy week. It happened to coincide with the Religion Newswriters Association Conference, so Kevin and Lauren were particularly busy trying to get ahead that week.
My big story for the week was an event with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University on Thursday. I spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday preparing for the event. I went through pages and pages of data trying to figure out what to write about.
I got lost on my way there, but thanks to my handy iPhone, I made it there (eventually). I listened to the event, and then I had a phone interview with someone from an opposing organization that I had set up earlier. His phone connection was horrible, so it took a really long time to do the interview, because he kept cutting out and having to call me back.
When I finished that interview, I found a coffee shop and tried my best to write my story. I was running really close to deadline by now, and under the pressure, I simply couldn’t figure out what the new information was and what the old information was and how to best present it.
I finished it up and sent it in, and then my phone died (before I could figure out how to get the Religion News Writers Association conference). So, I found the Apple store, bought a charger for my phone and plugged it into my computer. While I was in there, I also looked up bus directions for the place I was supposed to meet Lauren and Kevin. This was only mildly successful (the cord was WAY too short—5 inches), so I couldn’t make calls while it was plugged into my computer.
When I finally got my phone running again, I had several missed calls from Kevin and Lauren. They had some questions, and because they couldn’t get in touch with me, they decided to hold it.
The next week, I rewrote that piece, and rewrote it, and rewrote it. The final draft looked nothing like the first, but Kevin and Lauren decided not to run it, because it was old news.
I spent the majority of this week (that I wasn’t rewriting my Millennial story) updating our address with various publishers throughout the nation.
While this was fairly mundane, I did have one funny incident while making all these phone calls: the previous intern who made the list switched two digits in one of the phone numbers, so I accidentally called Home Depot instead of Harvard University Press. I’m not sure who was more confused, me or the woman who answered the phone!
During week seven, I wrote two stories. The first was about the Family Research Council shooter. He was the first person charged with terrorism charges since the District of Columbia’s 2002 Anti-Terrorism Act. I enjoyed this story because it was straight forward. It made me realize that I might just like cops and crimes reporting.
The second story was a fun one to write, although I had a hard time getting quotes. I wrote about how Muslims and Hindus are the least likely to have sex outside of marriage.
Since the story encompassed developing nations, sex AND religion, it was hard to find experts that could speak to the survey. I called about 20 people, think tanks, universities, etc. in a span of four days. I only got three responses, two of which I used (and the other just didn’t fit in the story).
Hurricane Sandy really threw us for a loop. We were supposed to move the week before, but couldn’t because we weren’t there, we couldn’t move. I spent the majority of my time that week researching for a story that I pitched about deaf churches, as well as getting contacts for a story of Adelle’s.
Week nine was split between researching and writing my “ What won, what lost on 2012 state ballot measures,” moving and interviewing people for my story on Deaf churches.
I even had the opportunity to go to Gallaudet and interview a professor. I also had my first conversation via video relay.
We spent an entire day unpacking our office and getting set up on the tenth floor.
My final full week was spent primarily researching for my story about deaf churches. I made phone calls, did internet research and sent emails.
I also worked on a story that talked about different versions of the Bible and whether or not the order of the books affects the way Christians read it. I contacted a number of Christian universities and interviewed Bible professors.
I also went to a pre-screening of Life of Pi.
On my last day, I wrote the story about Hispanics in America, finished up my article about Bibles and worked on my Life of Pi article. Then we went to lunch at the National Press Club.
Lauren was fantastic. I cannot say enough about her. She was encouraging, and helpful. She would edit my stories with me so I could see what she was changing and why.
Kevin was great, though I had little contact with him for the first half of the semester. He spent a lot of time out of the office because he was having issues getting an au pair for his twins. In addition to giving me many opportunities to write, Kevin tried hard to give me opportunities for experiences. He would send me to press conferences just to learn about topics, even if we weren’t going to run stories on them.
I see RNS’s move as a good thing and a bad thing for future interns. I enjoyed having my own office at the beginning of the semester. I think that having Lauren and Kevin there would have made it that much harder for me to pick up the phone and call sources. However, being in the same room as Lauren made it much easier to ask her questions and it gave the office a much homey feel. I think I would have gotten to know Kevin and Adelle (as well as Lauren) much better if we had been in closer quarters the whole time. I also work better with a steady hum or work going on around me, than I do in solitude and silence. So, being in an office with other people helped me be much more productive.
Perhaps the most valuable lessons learned were lessons about me. I learned strengths, and I learned weaknesses. For example, I am a slow writer and at times, I’m too thorough – I spend too much time researching, and not enough time writing. However, I am dedicated. I will do what it takes to get something done, even if that means that I will spend my entire weekend working on stories for work. I learned that I have a very “can do” attitude and that really counts for something in the work force. Above all, I learned that I can do this.
I am leaving this city armed with far more than what I came with. I am leaving with bylines, stories and confidence.