Being There…the difference between second-hand and real deal experience

I work in a unique situation. See, we cover events that are going on overseas in hard-to-reach, hard-to-pronounce countries that don’t let their own journalists have access to information let alone outsiders. Nonetheless, Radio Free Europe produces a fair amount of news stories from all over the Middle East and Central Asia that poke at the established government and challenge social norms. How do we do this, given that those of us writing these stories are usually thousands of miles away?

In my eyes, the “real deal” reporters are much more noble than those of us who sit comfortably behind a desk all day and write stories based on a few Google searches. However, more and more, journalism has become this second-hand reporting experience, and major places have adapted this practice. From the perspective of an intern, your day-to-day activities will most likely be that of the second-hand journalist–sifting through reports, making phone calls, stalking social media and writing based on press conferences you listen to on the radio or TV. I find that the best experience, however, is if you can sneak in a bit of real deal journalism among your other responsibilities.

From the D.C. end, RFE has two senior correspondents, a few international broadcasters who broadcast in foreign languages, a communications staff, corporate staff, and interns. Because of our small, close group, the interns have the chance to get published and go to events in town to get first-hand reporting done along with other activities. I’ve gone to a number of press conferences, Hill hearings, think tank conferences and cultural events that reflect our broadcast region. While some of the reporters told me that I could just listen in or view reports elsewhere, I tel them that I WANT to go to these things. I want to get up early and be the first in line for a hearing. I want to see the speakers instead of reading a transcript later. And best of all…if you’re there…you get to represent your work and ask questions, which is what being a journalist is all about.

I might not be able to go to Afghanistan or Iran to get a story relevant to our region, but I can pick up what I can from DC that they might be interested in. When at your internships, take the opportunity to learn the system, get to know everyone, and get out of the office.