An editor’s wise words

by Melissa Gomez/@MelissaGomez004

During my time at the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, the best internship I’ve had so far, I’ve covered a range of stories including breaking news, features and local government.

The biggest test came when my editor left for three weeks soon after I returned to the newsroom from the Chips Quinn training in Nashville, Tenn. Working out of the Times’ Clearwater bureau, I mainly wrote stories for the weekly regional section. Unless something crazy happened near the bureau, it was a familiar rhythm that initially put me on edge because I wasn’t cranking out daily stories.

As my editor was leaving, he told me I was doing well and that I would be spending the time during his absence in the main newsroom in St. Petersburg, at his desk, next to the other metro editors. I was terrified, but ready for a challenge. I only shared the second part of that thought with him, though.

He gave me several pieces of advice, which I wrote on a sticky note and stuck to my laptop as a reminder. I looked at the note every day. Here are three of his tips that helped me:

Pitch story ideas often

This is a given, but it’s good to constantly be reminded that pitching story ideas helps you to stand out. It forces you to take a hard look at your community and even use junk mail as a potential source of news. Chances are, four of your five ideas will fall through or be shot down by your editors. But with more ideas, you raise your chances of getting more stories approved.

Stay busy but always be available for assignments

My editor prefaced this piece of advice by saying, “This is going to sound impossible, but it’s not.” I should always be working on multiple stories, he said, but when news breaks, I should offer to help in whatever way the newsroom needs. He advised me to work hard to stay ahead of my weekly deadline and to take weekend and night shifts, if asked.

So I did. Once, an editor called during the weekend and asked me to cover a vigil. I went. Another time, a man who had suffered injuries in a tragic incident died an hour before deadline. We reported the story and met deadline. I even connected with the man’s family and worked overtime to cover a vigil for him the next day.

In the back of my head, I could hear my editor’s voice urging me to say yes to these extra assignments. But part of me never felt obligated to take them on, despite my believing it’s impossible to say no as an intern. These were stories that were worth telling, and I didn’t mind spending more time at work to tell them.

Be a high-energy version of yourself

Maybe this tip is specific to me, but I’ll be honest: It can be hard as an intern to find a groove and ride it out for 12 weeks. It can be especially intimidating to be surrounded by journalists who don’t bat an eye when breaking news comes at them, and can result in a standing-in-the-back-of-the-room feeling. It took me a while to shake off feeling like “just an intern,” rather than a full staff member. My editor reminded me that I did good work, and encouraged me to let that show by being more “high energy.” For extroverts, this may sound less like advice and more like a lifestyle. For introverts, the advice might sound intimidating, but it’s worth keeping in mind. For those somewhere between the two, like me, sometimes a nudge – or a shove – toward creating a stronger presence is what we need when we’re starting out.

Suffice it to say, my editor’s advice worked; I chased down some great stories last summer and had my internship extended by three months.

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