By Quinn Western, social media and photography intern
Here’s a peek into my experience so far as an intern at The Sacramento Bee. I’ve been afforded countless opportunities to learn and have fun, from shadowing Pulitzer Prize winner Denny Walsh to playing on The Bee’s softball team, The Slugs. (Check out my slide in the video!)
I will return to Chico State in the fall as a senior journalism major.
By Ben Mullin, Editor-in-Chief, senior, Journalism and English literature major
Ask any journalist what they’re proudest of and you’ll get different answers.
Some will break out their old stories and tell you how they tracked down each breathtaking scoop. Some will regale you with tales about how they stood their ground when some infuriated reader demanded a retraction for a story that was completely true. Still, others will recall a tearful hug from a grieving family or simply recite a beautiful sentence they wrote recently.
But when I look back at the time I’ve spent as an editor at The Orion, Chico State’s student-run newspaper, I’m not proudest of my first interview—because it was probably awful—and I don’t tell grand stories about my first byline—because it was probably about silverware stolen from Whitney Hall. Instead, I’m just happy to have found my calling while getting to know some of my closest friends.
Anyone got some Ritz for this cheese? I know it’s totally cornball, but it’s true.
For those of you counting at home (read: absolutely no one) I’ve been working for The Orion since I arrived on campus in fall 2010. At a student newspaper, where roughly 75 percent of the staff turns over every semester, these three years are equivalent to about 20 millennia, give or take a few geologic epochs.
During those aeons, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, most of them riding around on the backs of brontosauruses. But the people that are still working in journalism mean a whole lot to me. Many of the reporters I’ve worked with have gone on to work at the Chico Enterprise-Record, our local newspaper. Some of our alums have left to work at other daily newspapers or radio and TV stations up and down California. And still others are freelancers, trying to eke out a living by shooting video, writing stories, and taking photographs.
But no matter where they are or what they’re doing, many of them recall the time they spent in the basement of Plumas Hall producing The Orion as some of the most transformative years of their lives.
It certainly was for me. When I arrived at Chico State, I was a biology major dead set on getting straight A’s and going directly to med school. From there, I would become a doctor, which in my mind consisted of wearing scrubs to work and making inspired diagnoses in the space of one hour, allowing time for commercials.
This career plan, of course, ground to a halt after I spent one semester in The Orion’s newsroom. In four short months, I realized that I loved the adrenaline rush that accompanied breaking an exciting story, even if it was about stolen silverware. I discovered that I enjoyed interviewing people just as much as I loved writing and reading. And I found a calling that I believed in, even though it wasn’t as glamorous as medicine looked on TV.
I realized that the world needs people who are willing to bust cheats, investigate wrongdoing, expose corruption, and give a voice to people languishing on the margins of society. It also needs people who are willing to call a grieving family to write an obituary that helps the community mourn. It needs people who will cover Little League games, talk to criminals, and trawl through megabytes of census data.
In short, the world needs more journalists. I’m happy to say that my experience at Chico State showed me that and guided me to a career I’d never considered before setting foot in the basement of Plumas Hall.
Stanford. LSU. UC Davis. USC. Yale. If my esteem for The Sacramento Bee wasn’t enough to make me nervous, seeing my name and “Chico State” on the roster of impressive summer interns certainly was.
And as the sole copyediting intern among 10 reporters to be working at the paper, I worried I would be even more of an outsider.
But once I walked into that building on 21st and Q streets, I was relieved to find that my experience in the Chico State journalism department and on The Orion staff had prepared me to work in that newsroom. And that’s what I did each day for eight weeks, starting on my very first night shift.
I was assigned to the news desk, which comprises the A and B sections that include national, state, and local news as well as the editorial pages.
After getting briefly acquainted with the computer systems and copy flow process, I was allowed to jump right in and work as if I were any other copy editor on the desk.
I edited anywhere from eight to 17 items a day. Yes, I counted. And for each story I edited, I also wrote the headline and cutlines for any photos.
Editing at The Bee was similar in some ways to editing at The Orion and different in others. The basic skills of AP style, grammar, spelling, and fact-checking obviously applied, but I found editing Bee stories to be a lot more subtle, as the reporting was more polished and would affect larger communities.
I touched stories ranging from a front page New York Times piece on al-Qaida’s presence in Syria to a local story about a woman who broke the record for the longest Ferris wheel ride, only to have her record beaten the same week. For each story, the most important part of my job was to ensure accuracy, which a single word can make or break.
I was perpetually cautious as I worked with a surprising amount of freedom. The trust the editors put in me made me feel valued and allowed me to work without being overly fearful of criticism. The feedback I did get was always given with patience and encouragement. And I never once was made to feel like a kid who didn’t know anything.
I did turn out to be somewhat of an outsider in the circle of interns, just because my duties and hours were so different from theirs, but I got to spend time with them at weekly lunches put together by the intern coordinators with guest speakers such as Bee Publisher Cheryl Dell and Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar. We got to ask them about their jobs and the industry, and share with them our backgrounds and ambitions.
When I returned to The Orion and Chico State after two months at The Bee, I was more confident than ever that journalism—though in a period of uncertainty and change—is a vital industry, and one I would be honored to work in, especially alongside journalists like the ones I had the pleasure of meeting last summer.