Not Your Typical Summer Job

Elise Takahama is a rising junior at Boston University and serves as the managing editor of The Daily Free Press, a campus paper.

This summer, for eight short weeks, I had the opportunity to write for the Pasadena Star-News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Whittier Daily Breeze. As an intern for this Southern California News Group, I got to pitch story ideas, write and report on articles, attend events, and meet the whole reporting team. Truly, it was the ideal internship.

And going in, I was terrified.

It would be my first professional newspaper internship, my first time even covering hard news. I had done my fair share of feature stories for my college newspaper and written culture pieces for a small newspaper in Little Tokyo, but this was brand new territory. Deadlines had suddenly shortened, editors had become tougher, and readership had just multiplied by at least 80. Top editors would be crazed trying to run three newspapers every day, busy making several decisions at once, and I was just a summer intern.

So when I asked for advice prior to this internship, friends and family told me to be assertive, advocate for myself and my stories. But for many of my friends, I might be the least intimidating person they know. As a 4’11” Asian female, who’s also rather inexperienced in the newsroom, it’s sometimes hard to get others to pay attention to what I have to say.

But it was vital to be confident, people told me. It’s important to get experience pitching your ideas to people with seniority, they said.

I took that to heart, because I knew that if wanted to navigate the world of print journalism successfully, I’d have to learn how to take risks and go all in.

Lucky for me, my editor was more than happy to hear all my story ideas. So on my first day, he sat me down and we went through all of them. He gave me advice on sources to contact and different angles to try, and then he told me to go for it.

Of course, I had just completed the first hurdle, which was possibly the easiest one. The next part, the actual part, became a blur of phone interviews, transcribing notes, and writing draft after draft after draft.

And what surprised me was that once it started, I became too busy to be nervous.

My first article in print covered a press conference about the West Coast’s early earthquake warning program, and how President Trump’s initial budget proposal cut funding for it. Then I wrote about a local Pasadena student who had made his way on to Jeopardy. Then one about a foster care’s quinceañera celebration. Then there was a house gutted in a Fourth of July fire, a student in a fatal hiking accident the day before his high school graduation, and a spike in nonviolent crimes in the San Gabriel Valley.

But even though my list of to-do things got longer every day, there was always downtime between phone calls or edits. And once I realized I was surrounded by experienced reporters sitting a foot from my cubicle, I began listening to them.

Watching them report and listening to their interviews became some of my favorite lessons over the summer.

They had mastered the balance between showing understanding and pressing for detail, between being persistent and being empathetic. As I listened to their conversations, I slowly began to pick up the art of drawing key information out of all sorts of people, whether timid or belligerent or cautious. I watched different reporters play good cop or bad cop, write witty headlines, and sift through court files, and by the end of my internship, I felt like a part of the newsroom, even if it was just a small part.

The truth is, I think every internship or work experience will help students along their way, whether it’s a horribly boring one or an engaging, interesting one. Each one will help you figure out your goals a little bit more, and altogether they’ll guide you to where you ultimately want to be.

So, in the end, I didn’t really have anything to be nervous about.

I think even if this summer had turned out to be a bust, I would have learned what kinds of situations I didn’t want to be in. Any of these experiences will help you to better understand your driving forces and search for your own ideal working environments.

So for any of my fellow aspiring journalists, here’s my advice in future internships: just get in there, don’t be too anxious, listen to your surroundings, and write as much as you possibly can.