Asking Questions

The past week or so of my internship has been extremely challenging and incredibly rewarding. I finished a project I’d been working on since starting at Slate, which involved collecting photos for an annual feature on charitable giving called “The Slate 60.” Along with one other intern, I tracked down most of the photos displayed here. This may seem like a simple task, but it wasn’t easy. Many of the people profiled for this feature were really hard to contact. But the experience of tracking down their photos was a good exercise in organization and phone etiquette. I’ll admit it was very cool to be able to say, “Hi, I’m Graham Vyse and I’m with Slate Magazine.”

The second project I worked on this week was an actual article of my own. It was a piece for Slate’s “Explainer” column, which answers questions about the news. In the wake of a news story related to patients in vegetative states, I set out to answer the question, “When did we start calling comatose patients “vegetative”? Is this term a literal reference to vegetables?

(You can read the published piece here.)

In the end, my piece was about 400 words long. But you cannot imagine how much time and effort went into it. This project took three days of conducting interviews, doing research and emailing back and forth with two very helpful, patient Slate staffers. The process was much more challenging than I expected, but when it was over, I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment. I look forward to taking on more challenging, rewarding tasks as the semester progresses.

One of the valuable things I’ve learned at Slate so far is that asking a ton of questions is unavoidable. (Was it Plato or Socrates who said, “Wisest is he who knows he does not know”?) Sometimes I worry I’m coming across as a pest, but the fact is, there is so much I have yet to learn. That’s why I’m an intern. That’s what it’s about. I keep telling myself that I’m not expected to be a competent online journalist yet. I would encourage everyone to ask a lot of questions. My experience has been that people are more than willing to answer them.