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Intern Woes

Honestly, compared to many of the tasks people associate with the word “intern,” like making coffee and running grocery trips for bosses, I have it pretty good.

Not once have I been asked to do anything menial because one of the other staff members was simply too overwhelmed with other work. Not once have I really been treated with anything but kindness — or at the very least with respect — by my coworkers.

Not only that, but there are some definite perks to being an intern. It’s kind of nice when you can play the intern card when you botch phrasing part of a story, or just appear completely incompetent to a source on the proceedings of civil suits. Sources tend to be a lot more courteous when they learn the truth about your employment status.

When you screw something up, editors, for the most part, understand that you’re still in school, for crying out loud, and can’t be expected to know everything from A-Z just yet. They remember their unpaid or, if they were lucky, barely-paid rookie days, too. You’re not really expected to be brilliant at anything or work just as well as the rest of the team. So, when you do prove yourself worthy of your title minus the “intern” part — reporter, researcher, copy editor, etc. — your boss looks like an unsuspecting six-year-old kid who has just pulled an action figure out of a cereal box at breakfast.

All in all, the perks of being an intern far outweigh the drawbacks. But there are definitely drawbacks.

I ran into the most frustrating ones so far this week. I was assigned to delve into a story about the Obama administration supposedly funneling $23 million in taxpayer funds toward passing a pro-abortion constitution in Kenya. I had a heyday with it. What I was most looking forward to about it was — gasp — a real press conference in the Capitol building.

This was to be the very first time I would actually venture out of the office to report. Unfortunately, as newsrooms shrink, more and more reporting is done from inside the office via telephone. I’m not a fan of interviews in which I can’t see my source’s face, but I don’t really have a choice at The Times. Our office is literally stuck in the middle of nowhere — aside from the National Arboretum, if that counts — in Maryland.

So, off I went, completely prepared. I’d spent two hours at Starbucks beforehand prepping questions and furthering my research. I talked to the U.N. and a U.S. foreign agency, all preparing for the big event, slated to take place at 1 p.m. in the visitor’s center in the Capitol.

I knew the day wasn’t turning out so well for me when the guards at the front ordered me to toss my favorite, sparkly blue New York Times jug in a trash bin. Did they not understand? I got that water jug from inside the New York Times itself as a gift! It happened to be one of my favorite possessions, aside from my New York Times coffee mug, of course, which I actually use far more frequently. Nevertheless, and despite the searing 90-something degree temperatures, I was forced to toss my prized possession.

But I still had the press conference — or so I thought. After quite some time of getting entirely turned around, I finally found studio A, where the press conference was to take place. The smiling receptionist asked me for my credentials. Oh, shoot. I thought. I don’t have any. I must admit that getting press credentials from my editor had passed through my mind the night before, but only momentarily.

I told the woman I didn’t have any, but that she could look up my face and bylines quite easily at The Washington Times’ website. With an annoyingly perfect smile, she said she couldn’t do that. But could I watch the press conference on video? No. Could I have her talk on the phone to one of my editors? No. The rules were hard and fast. Lame.

So, I frantically reached for my phone to call Jeff, the press secretary to Rep. Chris Smith, one of the GOP congressmen holding the press conference. Drat. No reception underground. I couldn’t possibly go back through security again to make a call.

After I’d tried everything I could think of, hungry and dehydrated from not having a water bottle, I waited an hour for the press conference to finish so I could follow the GOP congressmen with my recorder at the ready, questions burning. I waited and munched on the sandwich I brought which security had somehow missed. The rules screwed me up so I figured I’d scratch the rules. Why couldn’t they have tossed the sandwich instead of the harmless water bottle?

But alas, as another fail of the day, I somehow missed the congressmen entirely. I thought I knew their faces, but apparently not. Or perhaps, they slipped out another door. I’ll never know.

Dejected and exhausted, I raced back to the trashcan in which I had been forced to stash my jug. Emptied. Gone. Fail. Even more depressed and crunched for time to boot, I took the Metro to my favorite Starbucks, now equipped with free Wi-Fi, I am pleased to say. It was time to hunker down and pound out that piece.

Finally, I met with success.

I put a call in to Jeff to see if he had five minutes to go over the press conference with me. Better than that, he let me speak to Congressman Smith for a quarter of an hour. I did what I rarely do and told Mr. Smith I was an intern, to explain my absence at the press conference. He was totally gracious.

Armed with all the information I needed, I pounded out my story for my editor. Thankfully, he was good enough to extend my deadline a bit and didn’t make me feel stupid for not thinking to get credentials. Lesson learned.

All in all, I’m going to miss the privileges that come with being an intern when I step out into the real world in 10 months. The pay is cheap and there are obstacles at every turn, but I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to make mistakes in a safe place for anything.

Weeks down: 8
Weeks to go: 2

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