Sitting in classrooms at Arkansas State University, I often wondered why a professor was talking so much about some topics that seemed to have no value any more. Counting headlines seemed to be useless now, and no doubt, during my internship I did not have to count headlines. However, I did have a discussion with the editor on counting headlines. He remembered having to do so before computers simplified the process. I wondered why I had to learn so much about editing stories, other than my own. Now my question is answered. I wanted to be done with my general education courses such as history and political science. Now I wish I had paid closer attention and had the time to take more of those classes.
I have learned a lot about myself and my abilities during my internship at the Army News Service. I have learned a lot about why we learn what we do in our classes. I learned a lot from practicing those skills in a real-world setting. Coming to the internship, I really did not know what to expect. I did not know exactly what I would be doing at the internship or the type of people I would work with. I was not 100 percent clear on the audience. I was not 100 percent sure where all of the stories went. What I did know was some of the preparation I had to put into it. Before going to Washington, I had to fill out paperwork in order to receive security clearance and a building badge for the office and Pentagon upon arrival. I had to take two online security courses about protecting information, both personal and government. I soon found out the other stuff upon arrival.
The internship did not officially begin until the Wednesday June 9, but I made arrangements to meet with the editor the Monday beforehand. That is when the learning began. The first mistake was being in such a hurry that I boarded a train going the wrong direction. The lesson I learned: every metro station is different. Some have multiple levels for trains traveling in different directions. All metro stations have poles with directions to the correct track.
The next encounter was getting to the office from the metro station. The office is located between six and eight blocks from the station. I had looked at a map on Google to have a vague idea of what the area looked like. The problem was, ground-view was not an option for the street on which the office is located. I started walking. After finding what looked like the building I had seen online, I walked the block around it. The road names were unfamiliar. The signs around the building said nothing related to what they should, if the office even had signs. I asked several security guards around the building where the intersection was. None of them had any idea. Then I called the editor. He told me I had gone the wrong direction. Lessons learned: Handheld GPS devices do not work well in cities with tall buildings. Some areas have maps around the metro stations.
The editor said I was close to the Pentagon. I really had walked the wrong way. That is two metro stops from where I had exited the system. He said to walk to the Pentagon and he would send an employee over. I still had to get the building badge and since I was already over there, it might as well be at that time. During all of this, I was also with another person participating in the program and interning with the Army News Service. We waited, and after meeting the reporter, he escorted us into the Pentagon, and took us to the badge office. After we waited, we went into the office and proceeded to answer questions. I did not have my social security card on me, or even bring it to D.C. That was a problem. They would not give me the badge. What I learned: Though it may be a bad idea to carry your social security card regularly, when applying for a government identification card, it is important to have it. I had to have a photocopy emailed to the editor, and asked my mom to overnight it and my passport.
We took metro back to Crystal City and the employee, Todd Lopez, showed us how to walk to the office aboveground. As we exited the metro, he showed us the map and the direction we would go. He also pointed out there were tunnels underground that went all the way to the office. We arrived at the office and because I did not have clearance yet was required to go through security screening and check in as a visitor. At that time we met the editor.
We arrived at the office Wednesday morning and immediately went to the editor’s office. We went over a contract that The Fund For American Studies gave us and everyone had to agree to and sign. He told us a little about what we would be doing in the internship and told us about the organization. The Army News Service is “internal media.” It is owned by the Department of Defense. The audience is primarily Soldiers and their Families. (I capitalized those in staying with ARNews style.) The stories are posted to the website where the entire world can see them. The editor also emails a list out to military publications. The audience is not the one to whom publications such as the New York Times, or National Geographic or other community publications write. That meant a different way of looking at things.
The first day was spent clipping articles that had been published in newspapers around the country and getting my badge. It was not long before we were able to attend an actual event and help cover it. That is where we really learned about the different angles. In June there were stories about management changes at Arlington Cemetery. Graves had been mismarked, more than one person may have been buried in a grave and the management received heat. Lopez told us the difference in the stories would be something like this: most of the publications would focus on the problems at the cemetery. The Army News Service would focus on what the Army is doing to improve the situation.
Adjusting to a new audience was one of the biggest learning processes for me and even at the end of the internship I still struggle with it. I have tried to adjust, but still fall short. One story I wrote was about a senate hearing on funds for the protection of convoys in Afghanistan. Most news outlets would focus on the problems; a lot of the money was going to warlords. But realizing a different audience I focused on the senate holding the hearing and investigating. It was still the wrong approach. The correct approach was focusing on what the military officials said to the senate and what they were doing to fix the problem. There were at least three different angles to approach the story.
The service is not public relations, but there are some restrictions. We have had discussions at different points during travel and even in the office about two that stand out. When we attend meetings at the Pentagon, if there is limited space they cater to the external media. Even if we were there two hours early and ten minutes before a speech a crowd of external media came, we may be told to leave. I asked if the Freedom of Information Act would not apply to that. The response I received was that a government agency cannot file FOIA against another government agency.
The second difference was in attribution. Within the Army, there are many offices that work on a project. The first step is often calling OCPA (Office of the Chief of Public Affairs), who will help us get in contact with the right sources. If the sources refuse to talk with us, we do not have the leverage that external media has. We are not allowed to write things like, “source name refused to comment.”
Another important skill I continued to develop at the internship is research. It is a aspect that, though encouraged to do, does not require a lot of effort when working at The Herald. Stories are relatively simple. In mid-June I was sent to a three-day conference hosted by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. The Command and Control Summit focused a lot on technology. I learned a lot from these assignments. I did not know what to expect at the conference and had problems researching topics beforehand. I did not know what the story would be. I knew nothing about military technology. It was all new(s) to me.
The first day of the conference, the editor decided to kill the story because it was from the private sector. The second day I wrote a story about what the speakers had in common. They both spoke about the necessity to consolidate systems that the Soldiers are using. After writing the story, the editor called me in his office and asked me, “What’s the news?” Because I was unfamiliar with the topic, I thought I had written it clearly. He said it was not new. So I skimmed what I had written, in effort to pull something else out. I decided on the technology that the Army wanted out by October.
I got that information by asking a question at the end of the presentation. Again, I did not know anything about LandWarNet, one of the focuses in the presentations. I asked a question along the lines of, “When do you want this to be released to Soldiers in the field?” With that, I could hear laughter in the room and wondered what was so funny. He answered the question, and it sparked another question from someone else about security. I continued in my ignorance.
It was not until writing the story I did more research on what LandWarNet really is. That research led in an entire new direction, one that would change the story from being focused on the conference to one that is on the technology itself. I spent at least a week and a half researching the topic which I had found was not concise as I had imagined it. LandWarNet turned out to be much broader. A diagram I found showed it as a cylinder with many other systems and levels within it. As a network I pictured it like an internet router. Not only did I have the wrong image of it, it was already in use. The project began in 2005. It is supposed to be complete in 2015, with additional technology being added to it. A lack of research embarrassed me.
The internship has helped me in other ways than just factual knowledge. It has also helped me personally. Hard news has been my forte since I began journalism in high school. I absolutely hated feature writing. I enjoyed writing opinions if I had one. But news was what I wrote most of the time. Since then, things have changed, especially after the internship.
I find that I really enjoy writing features and news-features. Three of the best examples I can give are two news-feature stories on the Army Birthday and the Korean War anniversary celebration, and the feature on Task Force Smith.
The news-features were relatively simple. The first story was a shared byline. The second we coordinated and I took photos. But both were events. We went to the event, did interviews on the spot, returned and wrote the stories. The feature was different.
For the feature, I first did some background research on the internet about Task Force Smith. After having a general idea of what it was, I began searching for a few names of veterans. That led me to a Korean War Veterans Association based in Texas. I emailed the two leaders and asked if they were part of Task Force Smith; they shared the name of some veterans I had found listed online. They were not, but did send me the contact information of another person who was and also held a leadership position with another group. I called him and we talked for a few minutes. He gave me the name of a veteran close to D.C., but told me he was not sure of his condition, that he was in a retirement home but was undergoing treatments for cancer.
The leader, Phil Burke, told me he and his wife would be at the ceremony at the end of the week. At the ceremony (the same as we did a news-feature on), I found him and did an interview. It was horrible. Because of his age, it was hard for him to hear and difficult for me to understand him. To make things worse, a generator was running in the background. We proceeded with the interview and I got useful information for the story. The group had to leave and the interview was cut short.
After returning to the office I began work to track down the veteran in the retirement home, Jack Doody. I searched for the retirement home by the location around Fort Belvoir. After a little searching, I found a phone number and made a call. It was the wrong place. I continued searching and then made another phone call. They told me he did live there and was in good condition. They transferred my call and we set up an appointment for an interview.
A week later, after a train and two busses, I arrived at The Fairfax by Fort Belvoir for the interview. I went into the interview prepared with questions. That is not how the interview went. It could be summarized with this statement: “Tell me your story.” When I arrived and got my notebook out he asked me a little about the publication and why I chose the story. I answered his question and then he just started talking about his experience. During the next hour and a half he showed me maps, and told his story.
That lasted until lunchtime. The area I entered was the same as where the dining room was. I asked a couple of questions on the walk from his apartment to the dining room. I was so excited about the story that I pulled out my laptop on the bus ride back to the office and began working. I was already thinking of how I was going to write the story as I took the 15-minute hike back to the bus stop. The story turned out to be one of the least changed stories I wrote on the internship.
The story left me questioning whether I want to focus on news or features. The experience at the internship left me with no doubt I do not want to cover technology when I can avoid it.
Before Washington, I was willing to relocate to find a job. My desire was to stay within an eight-hour drive from Little Rock. Eventually I would move further away and try to work myself to a more nationally-known publication. It was never my desire to live in a big city. I could see myself working somewhere like Philadelphia and living in the suburbs. But living in a place like New York or Washington was a definite no. I had no desire to live in the city.
Washington has changed that. It has broadened my horizons. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. During the week it is internship in the morning and afternoon and class in the evening. But on the weekend the choice is mine. I can sleep. I can cook. I can go out and see the city. I can study. Even sticking with commitments I made before entering college I am still able to enjoy the experience. Even without bars, D.C. can be a fun place at night.
I had the opportunity to see the Pentagon Memorial one night. Other nights I spent just walking around the Georgetown area. Because I did not have a car in Washington, I relied heavily on public transportation and walking. Georgetown University was within walking distance of the grocery store. Friday nights were often the time to shop. There was never a hardship in coming up with blog ideas. In fact, I had to write three in one night because I had too many things in the same night.
The transportation itself was an adventure. The thought crossed my mind multiple times to take advantage of free bus transfers and get on random busses and transfer all day to see where I end up. Truly getting lost in Washington is a difficult task. Just get on another bus heading the opposite direction and eventually a familiar street will pop up. I never did the random transfers for an entire day, but I did familiarize myself with the bus system by using different features offered by the agency. It is an important piece of knowledge, especially if I consider working in Washington sometime in the future.
There is no doubt that almost all of the classes I have taken at ASU have helped me some way in Washington. I never did well on AP-Style quizzes. But I learned how to navigate the book. I find myself going to some pages in the guide so often that when I open the book, I open straight to the page. I finally put a paper clip as a bookmark on some of the pages such as state abbreviations.
Although not very useful in college, knowing names in a given hierarchy is helpful. I had to familiarize myself with Army leadership on the job. In interviews people would refer to “the vice” or the “ASAALT.” It is important to know that when they refer to the vice, they are talking about Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli. When they refer to the ASAALT they are talking about the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
I took both photography and photojournalism. Having these classes gave me an advantage at the internship. I had knowledge of how the camera worked. I knew about shutter speeds and apertures. I knew the rule of thirds. The reporters at the news service generally cover the story and take the photos.
Classes such as feature writing, news writing, news reporting, and communication law and ethics helped me when it came to writing stories and taking photos. I knew to write a lead. I knew what I was able to take pictures of and what I couldn’t. I knew what I could write about and what I couldn’t. I was able to apply skills I learned in news-editing at the internship. Part of our responsibilities included editing stories that came in from around the country and around the world and posting them to the system.
Other classes just provided more of an entertainment and education opportunities while I was in the district. The most interesting thing about history is being where something happened. Learning about the assassination of President Lincoln is one thing. To sit in the theatre where it happened, with a storyteller pointing to the room is entirely different. It brings it to life. I had that opportunity. I had to see businesses used in the classroom such as Blackboard and the Newseum. I had to opportunity to see the Gutenberg bible at the Library of Congress. I had the opportunity to use skills I am learning in my minor/other major, Spanish, while attending a cultural festival.
There is no doubt if I had participated in this internship after my freshman year I would be lost. I would not have the skills to be successful. Though there are future sophomores in the program, I am thankful I am not one of them. As important as the skills learned on the job are, the skills provided in classes are important in preparing for the experiences in the job. Without those classes, I would not have been able to get the internship. Without the classes, I would have been unprepared to successfully write stories, take photos and edit other people’s stories.