Julia’s diary: What it’s like at my first journalism internship

Julia’s diary: What it’s like at my first journalism internship

Contributor Julia Donheiser is working at her first journalism internship in New York City this summer. Here's what she's learning so far.

Above, Julia in her office at Chalkbeat. Photo courtesy of Julia Donheiser.

Julia Donheiser, a rising junior at Duke, is interning at Chalkbeat this summer. She’s keeping a diary of her experiences.

My morning routine is simple. Wake up, take the Q train to Herald Square, go to the 30th floor to my tiny office – it’s just a room within another office – and get tweets on deck for the day.

Then things get more complicated.

Interning at Chalkbeat, an online news publication that focuses on public education, is kind of my dream come true.

I’ve been passionate about public education since I entered New York City’s crazy school system, and my feelings only intensified as my mother, a speech language pathologist, brought home stories about her unruly principal every week. This summer marks my first chance to really delve into the policy and nuances of the system.

But my passion couldn’t prepare me for the fact that I’m coming into journalism from a background heavy in statistics and math. Every article I write requires an immense amount of research as I realize how many gaps in my knowledge need to be filled.

The publication started out of the co-founders’ search for more meaningful education journalism, inspired by their own experiences in helicopter reporting – so it’s important for me to stick to their mission, too.

This makes the job fun. Beyond my first week, which involved delving into every article I could find on public education, zoning laws and segregation, each piece I tackle takes me on a journey through history. (Right now, I’m working on a project about school choice, and it’s been crazy trying to keep up with the ongoing debate sparked by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.)

I tend to get overexcited about things, and sometimes my editor will slow me down to ask the questions that guide the article. This is helpful and forces me to stay on track.

However, it’s not just my own work that’s rewarding.

Our tiny office is filled with people curious and passionate about public education. We collectively get angry, happy or into debates with one another. Given the nature of our 300-square-foot office, you can’t help but learn a little from every conversation you unintentionally overhear.

While I’m still getting the hang of on-the-ground reporting, one thing is clear: Report with a mission.

There’s a duality to this goal. At Chalkbeat, this means producing meaningful journalism that’s deeply rooted in the community. Aim for change. Push public officials to consider the stories and research journalism conveys when making policy.

More personally, this means have directed questions. Don’t just write about something — make it dynamic. Get all the viewpoints. Try to answer the hard questions, or at least provide people with the tools to start forming their own answers and opinions.

Journalism is a tool – and at Chalkbeat, we’re aiming to use it for good.

Julia Donheiser
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