Category Archives: College Life

Week Four As An Intern: Memorial Day Rest, Grey’s Anatomy Speculation, Phone Calls, Feature

On Monday, Memorial Day, I got my first weekday break from the newsroom.  It was much-needed since I had put enough time into calling every town in two of the local counties asking for information on their Memorial Day Celebrations so that I could compile a list of towns and their celebration–along with the other intern–for the news paper.  It was time-consuming, but we got it done a week before memorial day.

Except for the fact that my friends and I discovered a new park in the county we live in, my entire Memorial Day weekend was spent watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy, and I got up to episode 126–the end of Season 6.  Just enough to get caught up on the drama of Season Seven.  Later on into the week, I would learn that there are rumors that two of the main actors of the show are threatening to leave if the show doesn’t get better and that Season 8 may be the last season of the show.  But that may all just be cyber gossip.  I have no time to think about that now.

When I returned to work that week, I got an assignment.  I had to call people who participated in a poll about partisanship in New Jersey and ask them what they think about the democratic and republican parties.  Most people either were not home or did not want to allow their political opinions to be published in the newspaper, or were just plain rude and yelled at me for calling them.  Most of the people who did answer said that they were skeptical of both parties, or that the two parties have to work out their differences and start working together.  I only got one angry response from a man who thought all illegal immigrants were from Mexico and that they should go back there.  He also said that the democrats were communists and President Obama is giving too much money to illegal immigrants.

I was also given another job that week.  I had to call the sheriff offices of two counties to ask if there was a shortage of ammunition in these counties because of the reports that many places across the country were facing a shortage of ammunition because of the conflicts in the Middle East.  It turned out the none of our local police departments were facing ammunition shortages.

I also got another assignment that week.  A feature!  A real feature!  No press release, just a story that I can only write by interviewing people.  The story is about a Tae-Kwon Do school for special needs children.

I was excited about this story.  The only thing that hindered my joy was that I could not go to the place and interview the people in person because as an intern I am not allowed should something happen to me.   How can I write a feature if I am not there to see what’s going on–if I’m not there to record the sights, smells, and other observations of the place, atmosphere and mood?

P.S. “The Editor” has not lectured us for about two weeks; it’s scary.  The other intern has gone to South America for a class trip; she’ll be back on my last day.  I have no one to talk to on my lunch break now.  Another intern has arrived and I do not know his name.  I have not introduced myself.  I’ll call him Intern # 3.

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Week Three: Press Release Monotony and Calling the Governor’s Office

Week Three.  We wanted to write;  we got to write, or should I say rewrite press releases. Maybe not exactly rewrite, but it felt like it.  My job for the week was to write two previews about events I had heard about from press releases.  One event was called Bio-Blitz, an annual program in which scientists, naturalists, amateur naturalists, and the public gathered together at one of the county’s park to take a survey of the biodiversity around the urban and suburban areas of New Jersey.  The other event was about the Sourland Music Festival, held near the Sourland Mountains of New Jersey.

Both events sounded picturesque so you could imagine how frustrated I was that instead of going to these places and taking notes on the natural beauties of New Jersey that most people are completely oblivious to, I was confined at a desk, on a chair, next to a computer–interviewing people and hoping that I could give my article a taste of the places without being there in person.  Instead of being pretentious, I opted to use a slightly newsy approach to the story with just a little hint of creativity.  Since I have never been to the Sourlands, I thought it would be fair to start the story on this note, “The Sourland Mountains will soon be alive with the sound of jazz and bluegrass….”  This was a big improvement from my lede about the Bio-Blitz event which was a straightforward, “On this date, Union County, which boasts the fifth oldest park system in the nation will host its 8th annual Bio-Blitz event.”

I did my interviews, got quotes from people who were looking forward to seeing their events broadcast in the newspaper.  Imagine how embarrassing it was when they asked me when the article would get published and all I could say was I didn’t know because it is all up to “The Editor” who had barely said a word since “The Revolution” took place.  In spite of that, the people gave good information and provided even more useful quotes.

The other intern and I also got a taste of writing breaking news.  While we were busy writing our stories, we were interrupted by an announcement from the calm-looking editor and “The Editor” about a protest outside a building.  We were told to cover the story.  The protest involved about 12 dozen state workers, which were just a fraction of the many state workers that had gathered to protest at many places across the state.  They were demanding that Governor Chris Christie legitimize their right to negotiate their contracts and to meet with him.

I was excited because it was my first opportunity to use my voice recorder.  I talked to three women about their reason for protesting and all of them agreed that they wanted the governor to listen to them.  I felt even extra important when the other intern and I were preparing the story and I suggested that we had to get the governor’s side of the story.  I got to call the governor’s office that day and that was the coolest thing that I had done since the internship began.  It would have been even cooler if the governor had called me back before our 5:00 deadline.  But we got our quotes and we got our story.

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Week Two as an Intern: New Knowledge about the Grey’s Anatomy Cast; A Revolution, and Regret

By week two I was tired.  The quizzes were not helping me learn what I wanted to learn.  During our lunch breaks, the other intern and I began to complain about this and to secretly planned a revolution that would eventually change the way the internship was going.  I was slightly frustrated, and on top of that I was a bit stressed because I had found out something about two of the actors on Grey’s Anatomy.  One purpose the show served for me was to help me to unwind.  But I could not relax when I found out that two of the actors had a fight and one of the actors made gay slurs to the other.

For the past week that I was off from school, interning and Grey’s Anatomy were my life.  I could not look at the show the same way again learning that two of the actors were in conflict.  This had me losing sleep and waking up tired and unmotivated to wake up in the morning, though I was quite eager to head to the newsroom and listen to “The Editor’s” lectures about his career as a journalist and what he wanted us to learn.

When I went home at the end of my shift, I spent my nights watching You Tube videos of the cast and individual actors of Grey’s Anatomy on various talk shows.  I was happy to hear most of the actors saying things such as they like each other, and that they are pretty close.  Most of the actors who won awards thanked cast members.  I was thrilled to watch a video of Sandra Oh winning a Golden Globes and thanking her coworkers, and Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the show.

With this new knowledge that all was okay, I returned to letting Grey’s Anatomy consume my life when I was not in the newsroom.  And the revolution the other intern and I planned was boiling.  I told her that it was time to face “The Editor.”  We had to tell him that we want to learn Journalism.  We want to interview, write, and edit–not take quizzes on historical figures that we have never heard about.  Don’t get me wrong, I understood what “The Editor” was doing.  I understand the importance of history, and the fact that journalists “have to know a lot about a lot–not a little about a lot,” as “The Editor” would say.  But I felt like he was going about it the wrong way.  We were not retaining anything about those people we had written the 100 word essays on and we probably would not hear about half of them outside of the newsroom.

I thought of things that I would say to “The Editor” as the other intern said she would support me.  But it turned out that it was “The Editor” who initiated the conversation.  Somehow he had sensed that we were not gaining a lot from the quizzes.  He asked us what we would rather be doing and we told him that we wanted to write stories.  We were surprised at how flexible he was because he comes across as a stern person, even he realizes that.

As we continued to talk, “The Editor” began to seem passive aggressive rather than sincere.  He said, “since you guys want to do things your way, I’ll let you do things your way.”  He also compared our behavior to a person who watches a movie and want to leave the theater because the beginning of the movie seems boring and hard to follow.  He said that the movie eventually gets better but we would not be able to enjoy it because we did not watch it all the way through.

He told us for  our first story, we could write profiles, and if they were good, he’ll publish them.  My story was about an organization called FISH, which provides food and clothing to low-income families.  After that, he kept giving us more stories.  However, we did not know if or when they’ll get publish, which was a bit difficult because the people we interviewed called us to see when their stories would get in the paper.

“The Editor” also stopped lecturing us, and it seemed like he stopped talking to us.  He only handed us stories to write–making no eye contact–and responded indifferently when we greeted him or told him good-bye.  He wrote a column titled “Interns Should Be Careful What they Wish For.”  This was not the first column he wrote that included us.  He had written two before, both ranting about how our performance on the quizzes demonstrated the lack of knowledge of young people today.  No one told me public humiliation would be part of the job description as an intern for a newsroom.

We had what we wanted, but we needed to fix our relationship with “The Editor,” who I respect and appreciate for teaching us but disagreed with his teaching style.  I need instruction from him, and I feel like I should have continued watching the bad movie; maybe…just maybe it could have gotten a whole lot better.

Will our relationship with the editor improve?  Only time will tell.

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First Week as an Intern and My Encounters with “The Editor”

Hello Blog.  It has been a while.  It is midnight on Tuesday and all I can think about is how I would love to sleep and be able to wake up bright and early in the morning and not feel like hitting the snooze button of the alarm on my cell phone.  How I would like to get up feeling refreshed and well-rested.

But that will be too much to ask for.  Not just because it has been a while since I have written on this blog, but I have to wake up early tomorrow and begin another day as an intern at the local newspaper offices.

When school ended and I was done with my last final… when the last pieces of belongings (whether they were going to the garbage bucket or back to my home) were removed from the dormitory, I imagined a restful summer.  I was excited that I would be doing an internship, especially since it was something that I could and still can definitely see myself doing in the long run.  I thought it would be great.  I will go to work in the morning.  I will learn how to edit, interview, and write–well.  I will have dozens of articles published in the newspaper.  I will shadow the editors and reporters as they teach me how to polish an article until it is flawless.  Then after work, I will come home at about 2:00 and will have enough time to catch up on back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and read books I have yet to read.

I think you are already starting to figure out that things did not go as planned.  But even I don’t know how this will end, so I suggest you keep reading until the internship is over.  There were several things I did wrong going into the internship that contributed to it starting off badly and there were several things that happened that I couldn’t help at the time, and there were several things that happened (some I contributed to and some I didn’t) that helped  steer it in a different direction.

I went into this internship with high hopes.  Past experiences have taught me to never enter anything with high hopes, but the optimist in me is too strong.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Of course the price I pay for this is disappointment, but ah, how it feels so good to hope.

I started the internship just three days after getting off from school.  This was one of those bad decisions.  I was so excited to begin something that interested me that I thought I didn’t need at least a week to catch up on sleep that I had lost because of finals week.  I could handle this, I thought.  When I stepped into the office in the building that I would be spending six weeks of my life, I was greeted warmly by a receptionist who called one of the editors to make it known that I had arrived.  A friendly and calm-looking fellow came walking towards me.  The first place he showed me was the bathroom.  “This is the most important thing,” he said.

Well, somebody has a sense of humor.  This guy and I could get along.  We went into the newsroom and all I could think about was: where are all the reporters?  Where are the rest of the computers?  Where is the rush of trying to get the story done by deadline?  Where is the chaos?  Okay, maybe I was glad to see that there was no chaos, but the desks were uncharacteristic of order.  In the center of the newsroom stands a large desk shared by seven reporters.  In the middle of the desk, lay stacks of folders, papers, and old and new newspapers.  A similar desk, which seats about four more reporters is positioned in the back of the room.  And in the left corner, next to a large window, sits a smaller desk, where another reporter and I share the space.  There is a desk for one a few feet away from the corner and beyond that desk is where “The Editor” sits–the assistant editor, who is also in charged  of torturing interns.  Ask him, and he will willfully confess.

After I met all of the reporters and the other intern, I met him.  While everyone else greeted me with congeniality, he greeted me with indifference.  He shook my hands, barely looking at me.  I met the other intern and was shown where I would be sitting for the six weeks.

Our first assignment was to shadow a reporter.  He was covering a story at the County Court about an actress who crashed her car into a vehicle of a couple as they were heading into their driveway; she was intoxicated and killed the woman who was in the passenger’s seat as her husband pulled into the driveway.  It was my first time being in court and hearing “court jargon” that were way over my head until the prosecutor and defense attorney’s began speaking English.  As a journalist, I learned that it was my job to translate that jargon into the vernacular.

When we got back from court the calm-looking editor asked us what we learned.  Before we were even done telling him “The Editor” called out, “interns, you are with me.”  We went to his desk.  He said that from now on, he will not call us by names.  He will call us interns, and when he calls us, we are to report to his desk.  So I will call the other intern, Intern #2.

“The Editor” gave a long speech about what he was going to teach us and how he was going to be tough with us because when the internship is complete, he would not care an iota whether we like him or hate him–all he will care about is whether we left the internship better than we came.

I got an impression that he was a tough guy.  But I also got an impression that he was darn good at his job.  When he was done talking to us, he told us to leave.  I was given the AP style book by the calm-looking editor and newspapers from the past week to read.  “The Editor” called us to his desk.  We went.  He gave us a quiz.  He printed out pictures of 12 prominent women in history–all of which were women that he either liked or thought were important for us to know.  He told us that he was quizzing us.  Every time he showed us the picture, we had to write the name of the women on a sheet of paper.  But we could not recognize any of the women because most of them were beyond our time.  Some from the 20s, 30s, or 40s.  Because we both miserably failed the first quiz, we had to write a 100 word essay on each of the women, using information we found online.  We were not allowed to use Wikipedia for obvious reasons.

Not only that, he gave us home work.  Can you believe it?  Homework.  Wasn’t this suppose to be an internship?  We had to read the style book, of which he quizzed us on the next day.

The first week of the internship went that way.  We were quizzed and we wrote about famous people we didn’t know.  I did no interviewing or writing of news or feature stories as I hoped.  But everyday, we did read the newspaper, circled every mistake we could find and talked about why the mistakes we circled were actually mistakes.  So I guessed, I learned a thing or two about editing.

More on my experiences as an intern and my interactions with “The Editor” in the following posts to come.  Also, more on the continuation of my last post about Grey’s Anatomy.

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Oblivious: Who are We Really?

A little girl from a far away place traveling to a foreign land is forgotten on a mysterious adventure.  She stands lost and confused in a strange place.  Strangers from every which way pass her by.

A woman walks towards her and smiles.  “Little girl,” she says.  “You are beautiful indeed…what’s your race?”

“Race?  I don’t know what that is.  I don’t know my race.  I’m not sure I have one.”

“Little girl, everyone has a race,” says the woman.  “How could you not know?”

“What is the point of knowing?” asks the little girl.

The woman is speechless, unaware of what to say without sounding like a racist.  “Where did you come from little girl?”

“A place where who I am or what I look like does not matter.  A place far, far away.  I have heard about this place where I stand now.  You call us aliens.  But we are–all of us–people.  I am of the human race.”

The woman knows what to say now.  “We need to know our race, little girl, so that we are not oblivious to whom it is that we are.”

“Sure,” says the little girl, looking the woman in the eyes.  “Then who are you?”

The woman stumbles over words.  “I am, I am…”

Oblivious.

*            *           *

Since I have not posted anything in a while, I decided that I will post a piece of short fiction (and by short, I mean really short as you can tell) that I wrote a couple of days ago and shared with my Facebook friends.  I’m taking time off from adding the finishing touches to my paper about the Six-Day War to do this.  The story has nothing to do with the war, just to let you know.

I wrote this story as a parable because I am very interested in that form of story telling.  I like taking concepts that are specific to a person’s life and augmenting them so that the subject could be relatable to a broader audience.  After deleting my Facebook account for about a year, I decided to reopen it so that I could share stories like these with my friends.

I was inspired to write this particular story as I remembered a certain epiphany I received in college.  As I’m learning, college is a place of epiphanies.  One day while eating dinner with about four or five people, I was asked, “What is your race?”  I looked at my dark skin and thought how can anyone look at me and ask such an obvious question?  I was caught off guard.  Later on, I learned that they were asking me this question because they had heard about tribal discord in Liberia and about a group of people they called “the élite” Americo-Liberians.

This question brought me back to third grade when I was asked by my teacher, “What’s your tribe?”  My tribe? I didn’t know.  Tribe was not something that was discussed in my home.  “Are you Congo?”  The teacher asked, staring into my eyes as if she was interrogating me.  “You sound like a Congo boy.”  I didn’t know.  What did Congo even mean?  Was it a good thing or a bad thing?  After school, I asked my aunt if it was a bad thing or good thing. She just looked at me as if to say, “what in the world was the teacher’s motive for asking such questions.”  She gave no answers to my inquiry.

This has me thinking.  In a country such as Liberia where people, for the most part, look the same, why does tribe matter so much?  Why did it matter to my teacher, who from her actions and words seemed to suggest that she viewed her identity with a certain superiority as compared with the identity of others?  It recently dawned on me that when I was asked about my race by people who saw that my race was extremely different from theirs, I was actually being asked: which race do you pledge loyalty to?  It is under these circumstances and with these thoughts that I wrote, Oblivious: Who are We Really?

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A Time to Work and a Time to Pause: Lessons Learned from Finals Week

If you are a college student, finals season is here and chances are the work has piled up in the recent weeks.  You have exams to study for.  Papers to write.  Presentations to deliver.  Projects to create. 

We all cope with the stress caused by sudden business in our own ways.  Some choose to “blow off steam,” party and then cram; others procrastinate; and if you are like me, chances are you have put your life on hold and have set yourself captive in the library, running away from your room which by now has become so filled with papers and other domestic and scholastic debris that you can’t stand living in it. 

This is the season when my excuse for not exercising, not blogging, and not doing other school-related activities is all justified on the basis that I have too much work to do.   Good excuse.  I figure that if, for two weeks, I devote all my energy to my studies I’ll be better off in the long run.  It’s only two weeks of not catching a repose, not watching the news, not taking a run around the track and such.  Plus I’ll have plenty of time for doing these things in the future.  But I’ll only have these two weeks to prove myself to my future employers; so that when they see my résumé they will see that I am a serious candidate.

But as much as I want to believe in this good-work-ethic-leads-to-good-results mentality, a part of me just want to go for a long walk and for the moment, forget about all the business and take in the beauty of the world.  To acknowledge that the life I’m living now is just a small fragment of the larger scope of things.  That it’s a terrific thing to strive for excellence, but it’s not a bad idea to pause for a moment and just embrace the world for all of its beauty and intricacies.

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Young People: Religious or Not?

Tonight I went to Mass on campus and there were about ten people there.  The priest said that it was the most people he had seen in Mass since the semester began.

It had always been my intention to attend Mass.  The priest is a nice and inviting man.  However, going to Mass today just validated my assumption that there are not too many religious young people at the school I attend, and possibly in my generation.

This might seem like a rash assumption to make, especially coming from someone who spent two years in a Christian school where students still identified themselves with the Religious Right and were even more convicted in the values of Conservatism.  But even at the college that I previously attended, there were many students who wanted a break from old religious institutionalization of rules and ideas. 

For example, when I began school in 2007, the issue of whether social dancing should be allowed on campus was highly debated.  And when dancing was finally allowed, it caused various debates between both sides of the argument: those who believed that allowing social dancing was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the school’s religious values and the ones who argued that allowing social dancing had nothing to do with downplaying religious values and everything to do with acknowledging that we are living in different times and trusting that the student body was mature enough to make wise decisions.  The same argument could be made about alcohol.  Should the school make rules to restrict students from drinking or give them the choice to make their own decisions, trusting that they will make the right ones?

 Students also wanted the freedom to make their own decision concerning whether the school should require them to attend chapel.  While many students acknowledged that chapel in many case could be educational, they resented the idea that they should be forced to go, desiring instead to have a say in the matter.

So it seems that the students were more concerned with being granted the choice to make their own decisions than to depart from religious norms altogether.  However, what accounts for the fact that of the over 15,000 students that go to the public university that I now attend, the average church attendance on a given Sunday is less than ten people?  Is generation X less religious than its predecessors?

I started asking myself this question a while ago.  When I became a Christian at 15, I often believed that I was the only Christian in my high school.  I went to a diverse school so I knew that there were other students my age of various religions who also sometimes questioned if they were the only ones who attempted to practice their faiths and not compromise it for the status quo of being a teenager.

As I began to go to church more, I realized that the people my age that I went to religious events with did not seem to take their faiths seriously.  My theory for why this happens is that religious leaders sometimes underestimate young people.  They cut us too much slack.  They tell us that when we are older we will learn to be more religious.  That there is too much peer pressure within our generation.

I read a book a called Unchristian–by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons–a while ago that confirmed the theory that I had that young people, or young Christians in particular were not as religious as older generations, partly because they had such a negative perception of what Christianity actually is.  And apart from the world of Christian education, I noticed that a few churches that I went to was lacking in a youthful population.

Is it just me, or is generation X not as religious as older generations?  Do you agree or disagree with me and what is your rationale for either agreeing or disagreeing?  Do you notice that there are not too many young people attending worship services, or do you think otherwise?

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