Cocalico Corner: Finding the real news

By on August 5, 2015

For student interns, this is really the beginning … or end … of the year.

Many firms and agencies employ (sometimes without pay) students over the summer months when most vacations occur.

Internships are a great way for students to learn about their chosen professions and, in some cases, determine they’re not so choice anyway.

Most frequently, internships, served in any season, end up reinforcing the career choice that guides students’ academic journeys through college.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with lots of interns over the years, primarily in journalism. I’ve seen some spectacular ones who have gone on to impressive careers in the field and others who mercifully decided to follow other paths.

One, in particular, with whom I worked in the past couple years, is already a sought-after young producer/assignment editor in the Pittsburgh area. And, she’s still a student. She’s got newspaper, television, and radio experience under her belt. She excells in a variety of media platforms. I fully expect she might become the Barbara Walters of her generation. I could share my experiences with her, but there was not a lot of teaching needed there. But I like to think that cheering her on serves a purpose, too.

Mentoring interns, no matter what the field, is serious business. These are times to be honest about the realities of careers these kids are considering &tstr; and to encourage their enthusiasm in every way possible.

Way, way back in the day in Washington, D.C., I was fortunate to serve as an intern on Capitol Hill for the Congressional correspondent of the Copley News Service.

His name was Lester Bell. During those heady Watergate-era days of journalism, I was mesmerized walking the halls of the Capitol, watching the media pros in action, observing members of Congress during a chaotic time in our government’s history.

Mr. Bell, likely then in his 60s, was nearing the end of a career that began in the 1930s. He was the classic shoe-leather reporter who worked his beat and developed sources all over the Hill. He knew the cafeteria workers and janitors as well as he did the Speaker of the House and the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders. He could hobnob with the cream of the media elite, but he never acted like one.

He loved his job and worked closely with this lowly journalism student to help her hone the craft. I was one of the lucky ones who got the chance to learn from him and work on some interesting stories — including the rehabilitation of Union Station that was happening in the mid 1970s. That story, picked up by the AP, ran in my hometown paper, the Reading Eagle, and ended up helping me secure a full-time reporter’s job.

One thing Mr. Bell instilled was the importance of hometown journalism. After a chat with Sen. Edward Kennedy or a White House budget briefing with President Ford, he’d regale me with stories about his hometown newspaper in Elizabeth City, N.C. He went home a lot to visit; he couldn’t wait to retire there.

And, so he did, writing obits and weddings and community announcements at his beloved local newspaper. We kept in touch for a few years. In every letter, he was sure to say that he was happy I was working in real journalism.

Mr. Bell is in that big newsroom in the sky now. I like to think that he knows I’m sort of following in his footsteps, working on a small daily newspaper which specializes in the folksy news he considered true journalism.

So, if you are a journalism student out there as mesmerized by the news hot spots of Washington and New York as I was, take heed of what’s around you.

Down the road, Cocalico may just be the place where you’ll find the real news.

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