What I Learned as a TV News Intern
What I saw during my internship changed my view of TV journalism forever.
I was trained by an old-school journalist. He drilled into us the importance of the inverted pyramid, and we’d wake up quoting the “five Ws and one H.”
We were trained to think outside the box and ask open-ended questions that would get a subject talking. I earned accolades in competitions and had a regular following amongst my peers. I even put together a teen spread for our local newspaper.
The summer before my senior year in high school, I earned a scholarship to a journalism workshop at Stanford University where I learned that reporters didn’t just need to organize facts; they had to entertain readers in order to stay competitive.
How did I learn this, you may ask? By telling the story of my first kiddie kiss.
Red-headed Richie in my first grade class invited me over to his house to play after school. His mom talked to my mom, and the playdate was arranged.
I remember being fascinated by his Spirograph toy and asked to play with it. He agreed on one condition: I had to kiss him.
I thought about it for a minute. I really wanted to play with that toy. OK. What could one kiss hurt? We both puckered up and kissed on the lips.
I almost wiped my lips off my face scrubbing them into my sweater sleeve. Then, he held out for another! This made me mad, but alright, just one more kiss, on the cheek, not the lips this time. When he wouldn’t let me play with the Spirograph after the second kiss, demanding a third, I slugged him in the arm and asked his mom to take me home.
While blushing crimson, the workshop organizer used my story to communicate the value of entertainment.
After four years of high school journalism, a week at a Stanford University journalism workshop and two years in college, I was ready for my TV news internship.
My Journalism Experience Didn't Prepare Me for TV News
Decked out in my pinstripe skirt and jacket with my red satin blouse, I was champing at the bit for the chance to cover a live event. If only the news correspondent who I was shadowing would twist her ankle or get hit by a car in traffic. I say this in jest, but I was ready.
Until I listened to her story.
She spoke for almost three minutes in that newscaster tone and answered only two of the five Ws and one H. She answered “who” and “where.” Yet she obfuscated the interviewee’s attempt to explain “what” and “why,” and she cut him off before he could share “when” and “how” to be a part of the experience.
After the cameras were off and we were heading to the van to our second assignment, I asked her about dropping the ball on her report. Her response shocked me, rattled me to the core.
“I thought you went to college. How’d you get this internship anyway? You NEVER give them any more than three.” (She was referring to the five Ws and one H.)
I sat stunned. I was speechless.
As time progressed in that internship, I came to learn that this was, in fact, industry-standard practice.
Take a minute to think of something that happened recently and scribble down the answers to these questions:
Why did it happen?
When did it happen?
Where did it happen?
Who did it happen to?
How did it end?
Now try to tell a friend about what you just filled in the blanks using only two or three of the details you listed above.
You can’t communicate even close to the truth if you’re limited to only three of the six foundational facts needed to tell a story.
TV Journalism Compromised My Morals
Old-school journalists were trained to write in the inverted pyramid so that a news article was top-heavy with facts and information and ended with details that could be cut from the bottom in a pinch, without compromising the story, if the newspaper needed the column inches for another story.
TV news was an entirely different beast altogether. It was the practice of spinning stories to meet the station’s agenda and story criteria.
I learned this bitter truth in the 1990s, when it was still taboo for reporters to proclaim their overt opinions in their reporting.
So it never surprised me when the media spun a lie and proclaimed the boilerplate judgments on political opponents of the media elite.
Suffice it to say that I never became a TV journalist because this practice went against my grain.
But it does my heart extreme glee to see the exposure of the propaganda regimes seated at the most prominent and influential mics and anchor seats across the land fall into the pits they dug for so many others.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to learn in my TV news internship. The peek into the inner workings of media, press releases and learning how to pique their interest for community service projects will always be a treasure I carried away from the experience. It was also the bitter realization that I could not, in good conscience, become the next Jane Pauley without compromising my personal integrity.