My first story for VTDigger.org ran on May 11, 2011. Twelve weeks, 37 bylines, and 25,000 words later, my internship is finished.
I’m not in journalism because I aspired as a young boy to spend my mornings in the Vermont State House covering three-hour policy meetings and listening as lawyers debated for over 30 minutes the meaning of a single phrase.
But walking the streets of Montpelier and the hallways of state office buildings or wherever our governor’s next press conference might be, I learned my state from a different angle. One hopes that politicians see issues from the same side of an issue as everyone else, but they don’t. Lawmakers and lawyers will fight over the meaning of one simple phrase for 30 minutes because while it’s only a phrase to me, it’s the quality of life of hundreds or thousands of people who look to them, the government, for an answer.
I learned to see the governor, one of only fifty in America (an obvious fact that still brings me pause every time I step into the room with him), is human. A man who can make mistakes, but more importantly, make decisions because he feels in his gut – without always looking at numbers or bulleted lists or commission reports – that people need this. I grew up 0.47 miles from the governor’s office, but it took me 21 years and the right internship to realize this.
If I had to guess how many times I heard my editor, Anne Galloway, say “If you only take away one thing from this summer…” it’s definitely be more than just the once. But if I only take one thing away from this summer, really, it’s that no matter how much research I do, how many interviews I conduct, or how many meetings I attend, I’ll never write the perfect story. Writing alongside my fellow intern Eli Sherman (literally – we shared a desk), Anne, and the other journalists covering Vermont policy and politics, I saw stories written three different ways about the same thing. And I saw stories about three different things all come from a single event. Sometimes I’d see a story about an event I’d passed up and realize it would have been the best story I wrote all summer. The good stories aren’t always where you expect them, and the good become the best sometimes by chance and sometimes because of that one extra phone call.
People on the outside of VTDigger know Anne by her byline, the back of her head in press conference footage on the local evening news, or her phone calls. The only way to truly know an editor, though, is by dragging your chair into their office, sitting over their shoulder, and watching them tear apart – with a precision that to the untrained eye looks remarkably similar to reckless abandon – your day’s work. It took me a good few weeks to write a lede (the first sentence of a story) that Anne didn’t promptly delete. It was painful to watch much of the time, but the education I got looking over Anne’s shoulder as she restructured and reworked my stories was the best journalistic education I’ve had so far. And I go to a journalism school for upwards of $40,000 a year. Anne has an uncanny precision and ability to articulate exactly what the story is without sounding too convoluted or worse: making an incorrect statement in an effort to be direct. I feel lucky to have written for her this summer.
I learned more about photojournalism than I thought there was to know in the arena of taking pictures of press conferences and political meetings from Josh Larkin, VTDigger’s head honcho of technology, design, and photo (and cool hats, but he doesn’t put that on the business cards).
The newsroom, despite being roughly the same size as some of the jail cells we saw on our prison tour of Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., was the best place I’ve ever worked. Walking in every morning, I was ready for something new and different. Almost every morning, I got it. From prison tours to digital nature walks to press conferences with the governor, every day was a new experience. If I began my summer with any doubt in my mind that I want to spend my life as a journalist, it has since disappeared.