After Deadline – My Summer at The New York Times
I started my internship at The New York Times on the day of the Orlando attacks, the worst mass shooting in United States history.
Or maybe this thrilling summer began in May, when I spent a week at Temple University with 12 other lucky souls in what was, basically, editing boot camp – seven days that began with a wakeup call at 6 a.m. and ended after falling asleep on my books well past 1 a.m.
Let’s go even further and say the adventure started in December, two weeks before finals, when I got a phone call from a kindly old man who told me out of the blue that he would see me in Philadelphia. Confused, I asked, “Excuse me, what is this for?” And Professor Edward Trayes said, “Oh, The New York Times is looking to pay you $1000 a week to be an editing intern – does that sound good?”*
But this story really kicked off when I spent the entire month of October reviewing for the Dow Jones News Fund copy editing test – a tear-inducing, confidence-busting exam that around 1000 applicants subject themselves to every year, just for a shot at the world’s greatest bastion of journalism.
I thought I’d flunked the test, which made the call from Dr. Trayes all the more surprising. At that point, I would have been happy to be assigned to any desk at the Times, but Dr. Trayes thought I would be a good fit for the Foreign/National desk – or, paradise for an international relations major observing her first U.S. election.
Foreign/National was inundated by so much bad news this summer (multiple bombings, multiple shootings, multiple email scandals from the Democrats, multiple gaffes from Donald Trump) that one of the staff editors, a former Dow Jones intern, said, “Francesca, this is the no-joke desk. You should be proud of yourself for surviving this summer.”
Honestly, I’m just relieved I survived the hours: I worked on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then on Sundays to Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
A lot of things copy editors do are easier said than done – for example, writing a headline that is punchy and attention-grabbing and an accurate summary of the story while staying true to the lofty Timesian tone and fitting into the allotted layout perfectly is an art form.
The challenge for us interns was to make it on “After Deadline” – a weekly list on the Times’s internal blog that recognizes the past week’s best headlines. Only one out of nine ever made it (spoiler alert: it wasn’t me). Getting my first headline through to print had been hard enough, but it finally happened on a story about Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. My proudest achievement, though, was on the first night on the Democratic convention: I wrote the headline for a story about Michelle Obama’s relationship with Hillary Clinton, and for a few hours that night, it was the first hit on Google if you searched “Michelle Obama.”
There are many things that people don’t realize about newspapers. The locations you see at the top of the article? Those are called datelines, and they indicate that the reporter was actually on the ground. But that doesn’t mean real journalism is putting on a helmet and running around a war zone with a GoPro. Some budding news websites like to put reporters in the center of the story, producing content such as “Here’s What Happened When I Had Dinner with a Taliban Leader,” or something like that. The New York Times is the only legacy newspaper that still maintains an extensive international staff in bureaus throughout the world, and reporters are assigned to a region for extended periods, not just for one-day trips.
The highlight of my internship with the New York Times was when I met Azam Ahmed, the bureau chief formerly in Kabul and now in Mexico City. I was excited not only because he was a foreign correspondent, but also because he had written the article on Taliban justice that inspired my thesis. Talking to him made me want to be a foreign correspondent all the more. You could read every academic paper about Afghanistan, but an ivory tower academic will never be able to tell you about Afghanistan the way a journalist on the ground can.
Of course, it’s going to be a while before I’m anywhere close to being worthy of Azam’s credentials.
But this summer at The New York Times was an important stepping stone, and I am grateful to have experienced how a world-renowned newsroom with the highest standards works. Now it falls on me to build my street cred as a journalist and, hopefully, work my way back to the august institution on Eighth Avenue.
*I kid you not – this was how the conversation actually went.