Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Best, Most Challenging Day Yet

On the very first day of my second week as an intern, I was given my simultaneously most challenging and most awesome assignment yet: I was to cover the mayor's luncheon with the valedictorians of the schools in the Boston Public School District.

I was only given about an hour to an hour and a half to prepare myself for this assignment, but I was also working on another much smaller assignment at the same time.  Further, I was running dangerously low on energy.  I had accidentally woken up later than I had intended that morning and had gotten to the office just in time.  Needless to say, my concentration levels were not exactly where they should have been, but I did my best to work through it and get myself prepared.

I tried to formulate questions for those I knew would be there, but I knew I might need other unexpected sources once I got there so I probably would have to think of some questions on the sopt.  I looked up pictures of the Mayor of Boston and the Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools so I would be able to recognize them right away, and I google mapped the route I would have to take from South Station to the Boston Harbor Hotel where the event was being held.

I thought I was leaving much earlier than I needed to, but it turned out other media people had beaten me there and were already busy interviewing sources, taking pictures, and scoping out their spots inside the event.  I felt like I was already behind, and I have to admit, it was a bit overwhelming.

I had been directed by my editor to first finde the media and communications coordinator, but I had no idea what he looked like.  I kept seeing Superintendent Johnson walking around, and I contemplated interviewing her before I found the media coordinator.  He was going to tell me which valedictorians were from Dorchester so I could get interviews with them.  When I finally found him, it was difficult to get his attention because he was busy greeting people and he seemed to know everyone. I finally got hold of him and he gave me a list of schools with Dorchester valedictorians.  At the same time, Superintendent Johnson approached us to ask the media coordinator a question.  It was then that I seized the opportunity to interview her because I knew I might not get another chance otherwise.

After getting the information I needed, I took my position in the dining area where all the other media people were standing.  As soon as lunch began, I was left standing alone in the back of the room.  You see, most of the other media people were from all-encompassing Boston news organizations and they could basically interview anyone they wanted in the room.  I was reporting strictly on Dorchester and would have no idea who the Dorchester valedictorians were until after the ceremony.  I also felt weird about interviewing people while they ate.  After being in Italy for a few months and learning how important meal times were to them, it seemed almost intrusive.  I knew I was wasting valuable time though, and after seeing a few reporters working the room while everyone ate, I decided to go up to a random table and ask if anyone was from Dorchester.

I got lucky.  The valedictorian sitting at the table was from Dorchester Academy and was more than willing to grant me an interview.

I completed my interview with the valedictorian and re-took my position at the back of the room until the ceremony started to see if I could scope out any other possible sources.  I knew I wanted a boy source to get some variety into my story.  It was at this point that I made the acquaintance of a Boston Herald reporter! She was looking for the media coordinator so she could interview a valedictorian who was also a cancer survivor.  (These valedictorians were very impressive, I must say.)  I chatted with her a little, telling her that I was an intern from St. Michael's but am originally from Western Mass and it was only my second week on the job.  She told me she has been with the Herald for about 6 years now and that it was her third time covering the event.  At first glance, I had thought she had been a younger reporter who was more on my level, but looks can be deceiving, I guess.  I was impressed by her ability  to seek out her subjects and interview them without the use of a recorder.  She mentioned to me before she went to interview another source that the Herald is always looking for people in their editorial department, so I might check that out after I graduate.

When the ceremony finally began, I followed another photographer's lead to the front of the room to get pictures of the speakers and eventually the students.  I hid behind a post so I wouldn't be in anyone's way, but I accidentally stood right behind a cameraman.  Though I tried to be respectful, I think I may have gotten too close.  He eventually left his position, giving me more room to work.  I was also able to get decent pictures from my position despite the windows in the back of the speakers providing inconvenient back-lighting.

After the ceremony, I decided to act quickly to get my last few sources since people began to trickle out of the event after the group photo of the valedictorians.  I was supposed to be introduced to Mayor Menino by the media person, but it was too late for that, so I just decided to go up to the mayor myself and ask him for an interview.  At that point, the Mayor was being pulled in a million different directions for photos and "thank-yous," but he was generous enough to give me two minutes of his time.  I also grabbed another male Dorchester student and his mother before leaving.

When I finally left the Boston Harbor Hotel, it was past 2 p.m.  I had devoted three hours to this assignment, and I needed caffeine.  I was still kicking myself because I hadn't gotten to interview the valedictorian who was a cancer survivor and I was under the impression that he was a Dorchester student.  I had watched the Boston Herald  reporter I met get her interview with him and really establish a good rapport, and I was really angry I hadn't seized an opportunity to do the same.  In the end, it turned out he was not from Dorchester and I could make another angle work with the sources I did have.

I did realize something that was pretty cool at that moment, however, and it was the most surreal thing I've encountered in this internship so far: I am competing with the Boston Herald for angles on certain stories. SO cool.

On my way back to the office, I stopped in South Station and got myself a chai latte.  The man who made my latte had an accent, and when he eventually gave it to me, saying "Chai latte?" in an almost Italian accent, I didn't catch myself before I responded with "Si." Realizing what I'd done, I got flustered and had to put all my strength toward pushing out "Thank you" instead of saying "Grazie."  I was very tired, but it might also be a sign that my reverse culture shock is still happening!

Overall, this experience was the biggest learning experience I've had so far with this internship.  I had never been to an event like that completely by myself where I know absolutely no one and have to prepare myself and compete with other media people for interviews and photos.  I followed the leads of a lot of other reporters since I didn't know what I couldn't and couldn't do in that kind of situation.  It was really awesome to be able to cover this type of event during only my second week as an intern.  I'm still in disbelief that I interviewed the Mayor of Boston and casually chatted with a Boston Herald reporter.  I love this job!

If you have any questions about my internship or my life at Saint Michael's College, do not hesitate to email me (, Tweet me (LittleLizzie33) or ask me a question on Formspring (lizmurray3).  I will do my best to answer whatever question you may have.

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