I’m back with another Internview and this one is from the reporter who brought Columbia, Mo., “Wardergate” in the Fall of 2011, when ward realignment became a huge issue.
The interviewee today is Karen Miller, who aside from being a friend and part-time Canadian, is a great journalist with a bright future ahead. If you’d like to follow her on Twitter, her handle is @Karen_e_Miller. Enjoy:
SR: Where are you working?
KM: The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington.
SR: What was your experience prior to this internship?
KM: My only journalism experience prior to this internship was my year at the Columbia Missourian. I started as a reporter there last August, and I was an advanced reporter in the Spring semester. This is my first “journalism job” outside of the J-School.
Outside of journalism, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in History and a minor in English Literature. Writing and researching have always been one of my passions and that’s why I chose Journalism for my master’s.
Work-wise I spent five summers working in the gift shop at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. Retail just wasn’t for me.
SR: How did you get the internship?
KM: I’m a life-long Tacoman and had a few connections here. My mom actually worked at the paper in the advertising department for years. I applied like everyone else, but I also followed up on my application. I really wanted this job, so I called and ended up interviewing here and finally landed the job for the summer.
SR: What is your title and what do you actually do?
KM: I’m a reporting intern, but I’m credited as a staff writer. I sit with the Public Life team where I have an overseeing editor and a columnist who acts as my mentor. At the beginning of the summer, my plan was to rotate between beats; however, I liked my team so much I ended up staying on Public Life full time. It’s a really collaborative newsroom, so I get pulled in on all sorts of General Assignment reporting, such as weather, pool openings and a few business clips. The best thing about this internship is they want to give you the clips that will build your portfolio. Their consideration when I’m assigned something is “will this help you in the future” not “what can we toss the intern.”
SR: What are the three biggest things you’ve learned at your internship?
KM: 1. Always stay calm. Freaking out doesn’t help you pick up the phone and call people.
2. Don’t beat yourself up about anything. Everyone has a day where they are less than their best.
3. If something does go haywire on you, tell your editor. They probably already know you’re upset, and talking to them will help you get over it.
SR: What’s the favorite story or stories you worked on and why?
KM: I had a big day of reporting in late-June where I had two shared bylines. The stories were so vastly different that it made for a really memorable day. For one, I had to sample about 13 different food items, especially deep-fried, at the Taste of Tacoma, and for the other I had to cover a community effort against a halfway house for sex offenders. I literally ate a deep-fried Twinkie, drove back to the newsroom, got in another car and went door-to-door in a neighborhood.
I’ve been keeping a list of “things I can’t believe I got published in my hometown paper,” which I’ll post a full version of on my blog once I finish. Some of the highlights are “Leninist weapon,” “poop” and “dope bag.” Additionally, at last calculation, I have interviewed two people with concealed weapons. At least, that’s the number of people who have told me they have a concealed weapon. It’s Tacoma, so possibly everyone I interviewed was packing.
SR: What is the biggest thing you’ll take away to the next job/internship?
KM: The biggest thing I’ll take away from this internship is new relationships. I really like everyone I work with here, especially my overseeing editor. Since I’ll be moving into an editing postion when I return to Missouri, watching my editor do her job was really helpful. She’s incredibly calm, and after working here I can see what a huge asset calm people are in a newsroom.
The other reporters I met were really genuine people. I never felt like I was “just an intern.” Everyone treated me like an equal, and they gave me some really great ideas for stories. That meant a lot to me because these are well-established reporters and columnists that I grew up reading.
SR: What’s your ideal job upon graduating?
KM: I’m not really the type of person to have an ideal job. I just want to continue writing, meeting people and serving the public. My ideal job has good people. Office camaraderie is really important to me because I have a lot of inane observations on life that I need other people to listen to in order to stay sane. I don’t think I could work from home, alone. I guess there’s always Twitter, but that’s not really the same compared to chatting at someone’s desk about life, journalism and crazy situations.
SR: What’s your dream job?
KM: Maybe I’m a little strange, but I don’t really have a dream job. I took a gamble on journalism, and I’ve loved every minute of it. My dream is to be steadily writing and impacting readers for the rest of my life. I also love working with like-minded reporters in a newsroom setting. That’s what’s so special about the News Tribune for me.
SR: When you finish your internship, what’s next?
KM: I’ll head back for a final year of J-School. In fact, I’ll make a 2,000-mile trek BACK to Missouri in my truck, my third cross country trip since starting my masters.
I’ll be an Assistant City Editor for the Missourian, and I’ll take a two-week trip to Beijing to cover the China Open tennis tournament in the late Fall. Hopefully I will finish my degree, project and all by Fall 2013.
SR: What would you tell your previous self at the beginning of the internship?
KM: Buy new clothes. I did this in my third week, and it made me feel like a whole new person. Also, ask your editor to put you on all the newsroom email lists early on so you aren’t taken by surprise on “free hot dog day.”
And on a serious note, make the most of every day because it is going to fly by faster than you realized.
SR: What do you like least about your internship?
KM: It’s hard reporting in your hometown because all of a sudden everyone you know becomes a source. It’s also really hard to separate emotions from reporting when you are in a place you love. Oh! And everyone you know is looking for your byline. One of my dad’s gym buddies said to him the other day, “Karen hasn’t been in the paper for awhile.” No pressure, right?
Tacoma means a lot to me. I feel like it courses through my blood. At every turn and with everything I covered, there was some back story in my life. It was a little draining, but in the end much more rewarding than reporting elsewhere. So I guess it’s not what I “like least,” it’s really the biggest challenge.
SR: Internview number two is in the books. Thanks so much to Karen Miller who graciously volunteered to be interviewed. The next Internview will be with Emily Garnett of The Progressive Farmer out of Omaha.