Category Archives: Writing

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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A Parable

As the semester comes to a close, I am beginning to watch programs that educate me, keep me informed, and urge me to think.  One such program is FRONTLINE on PBS

On the show’s online archive, I watched several minutes of an episode called the “Suicidal Tourist.”

It was about a man with an incurable disease that makes him excruciating ly fatigued so much so that he can’t move his fingers; the disease is projected to lead to paralysis and eventually to death.

The man has a loving wife who takes care of him; however he is frustrated with the pain and agony that the disease has caused him.  He wants to end his life.

He goes to a country in Europe (I think Switzerland if I remember clearly) where Physician-assisted suicide is legal. If he goes through with it, he will drink a thick liquid that will kill him.

As I watched full of emotion and with great sympathy for this man, I was struck by what he said that justified his reason to take his own life so that he will not become a vegetable when the disease progresses further.

He tells a story about a monk who is running away from a tiger.  As the monk runs, he finds himself at the edge of a cliff, while the tiger rushes towards him.  He begins to fall, but grabs onto a branch.  He looks down.  There is a tiger at the bottom of the cliff waiting to eat him if he falls down, and if he struggles back up, the tiger that chased him will surely eat him.  So in the face of adversity, the monk sees a piece of berry growing on a bush.  He plucks the berry and eats it.  He savours the delicious juice, still holding  the branch.

I hope I will never have to make this choice.  I hope nobody has to ever make this choice.  But what this parable has taught me is that even when life it at is worse, we could seek out what is good and sweet in this world, savour it and enjoy the moment because we do not know when we would have the chance to do it again.

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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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