Wednesday, August 25, 2010

'Summer of Ag' comes to a close

Ten or 11 weeks always goes by much faster than I think it will during the first or second day of Week One, when I'm sitting at a new desk in a new place looking wide-eyed and terrified.

The first couple days of an internship always feel like you're in way over your head. You don't know anyone, you're doing something new at a new place with different procedures and expectations than you're used to.

At the beginning of this internship, I knew I was going to be designing pages, editing copy, editing some video and maybe doing a story here and there. The three months prior to June 14, I had only been doing one night per week of very limited layout/design, and I came in feeling really rusty. I was thrilled that Quark was intuitive and similar enough to InDesign that I could actually get by that first week. In fact, I was really proud of myself, even though I knew that by design standards, those first pages were hideous.

But slowly I got to know the news and office staff, the writers, the editors and the paper itself. I started to learn what worked, what didn't and what people wanted to see. Most importantly for this type of internship, I think, I got to know the subject matter.

I'm more or less a complete stranger to agriculture and rural America. Aside from growing up riding and training horses (we never owned any land, though, so I was always living in the suburbs or a city and boarding somewhere) and the one year I spent raising a goat in FFA, I have no connections to the ag world. I've never made anything grow — I don't even cook. I know that 11 weeks at a weekly ag paper doesn't qualify me to be a member of the Farm Bureau or work for USDA, but I feel like I have so much more awareness of this huge, vital industry now. I can actually carry on a conversation with someone in the ag world about what's currently going on.

In fact, I impressed my boyfriend's dad a few weeks ago by asking him about his wheat and grass seed harvests.

I really hate how unaware of this entire world I was before this internship. I barely know anything now, but as a person who is more or less obsessed with learning and discovery, I'm excited and I want to learn more. I'm moving to a dingy, tiny apartment in a barn in the middle of nowhere when I move my horse to Corvallis in a month because I want to be more a part of this world.

Aside from my ag education, I had never really done intense, daily page design. I really enjoy reading and editing copy, and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on AP style, but I think I kind of learned that designing pages isn't my forte. I can do it, and I'm happy to do it, but I just don't feel like I'm good at it. Also, I start to miss getting to interview people and track news and write when I'm at the copy desk for long periods of time. But if I hadn't had this internship, I wouldn't know that.

I can't imagine what I would be like right now if I hadn't gotten to do this internship. I feel like I'm at least competent at page layout now and I know, if nothing else, what doesn't work. It seems natural, I don't fumble as much. But I think it's something you have to always work on, like writing.

I had an internship once where I felt like I was kind of a superstar. The staff and editors loved me and I had front page (and even centerpiece) stories regularly. I floated out of 10 weeks feeling like I'd have no trouble finding another internship and a job when I eventually graduated.

But aside from really rigorous practice in writing and reporting, I didn't learn much that summer. And the year after it, I didn't get any of the prestigious internships I applied for (ridiculously lofty ones, like NPR and The New York Times, which I clearly am still not ready for).

I loved that internship and still love that paper, don't get me wrong. But the point is that I learned more this summer — so much that I'm almost a different person now. I feel like I'm leaving here a smarter, more well-rounded human, not to mention a better copy editor, better video editor, better photographer (although still admittedly really weak) and a better reporter.

This was a random, last chance opportunity that ended up being a really significant one. Before Joe e-mailed me and told me they were looking for a copy editing intern of sorts, I was planning on going home to Woodinville and working at a brewery as a hostess for the summer. If I'd done that, right now I would probably be wildly irate from dealing with obnoxious drunk customers for two months straight, but I also wouldn't have what is basically a completely revamped and improved skill set.

And now I can bring an agricultural edge to my fall reporting internship at The Oregonian, which is an angle that many Oregonians from rural backgrounds have told me they feel like The O is missing. If there's any chance for me to push that angle, I will.

The worst part about internships is that you grow attached to the place, the people and the job about two-thirds of the way through, right when you know you only have a few weeks left. This was an invaluable experience for me as a young journalist, and I'm so thankful for everyone who made it possible and who helped me out during my time here. But you probably won't get a chance to miss me — I'm sure Anna and I will be back to visit before long.

-Candice (copy desk intern, summer 2010)

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