Category Archives: Working with interns

Powered by interns

When you run a small media company like ours, maintaining a steady stream of capable interns is the difference between muddling through and really moving forward. When you can confidently offload some of the routine tasks involved in creating and editing content for publication (for print and web), you finally find time to tackle the big-picture tasks that hover too long on the “when I can get to it” list.

So it was with a sense of excited anticipation that I returned to Phoenix after a five-day trip to Seattle (where I spent some all-too-rare time with my two brothers) to welcome two summer interns to the RAK family.

Robert Balint. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

One is very familiar. Robert Balint, son of RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, is something of a returning veteran. His first stories appeared in Raising Arizona Kids in 2008, when he was still in high school at Brophy College Preparatory.

“Girls on the Mat” was about a female high school wrestler, “When Your Child Doesn’t Make the Cut” was about young athletes facing rejection and “Physicals Keep Athletes in the Game” explained what doctors look for during sports physicals.

That same year, Robert shared insights on his participation in the Phoenix Sister Cities program and many of us followed his blog posts during that trip. (We look forward to reading the next installments in his “Daily Occurences” travel blog when he leaves in July to spend six months studying in Argentina.)

Robert, who just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, will be with us for about six weeks before he heads to South America. During his internship, he will be writing for our collaborative Sports Roundtable blog, to which my husband Dan, who missed his calling as a sports reporter, periodically contributes. Dan and Robert teamed up in the multimedia department during Robert’s internship last summer, when they produced a great video piece about a high school football lineman competition.

I look forward to working with and getting to know our second summer intern, Sadie Smeck. Sadie is a graduate of Arcadia High School and currently is attending Washington University in St. Louis, where she will be a junior this fall, majoring in international studies and Spanish and minoring in writing. Although Washington University does not have a school of journalism, she is a reporter, writer and editor for the university’s independent newspaper, Student Life.

Sadie Smeck. Photo by Daniel Friedman. I have Vicki to thank for Sadie, too. Vicki introduced me by email  to Sadie, whom she described as “a family friend from our neighborhood, a good student and a hard worker.” While she’s with us this summer, Sadie will be covering community news, education and more.

In the “small world” department, it turns out that Account Executive Catherine Griffiths also knows Sadie. When Catherine showed up at work this morning (with her mom, who’s in town for Hunter Griffiths’ eighth-grade graduation), she immediately rushed over to greet Sadie warmly.

Turns out Catherine, whose older son Harlan has Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes, was once offered some very wise advice by Sadie’s mom, who was also navigating that journey because Sadie’s older sister lives with diabetes.

Read Catherine’s story, “What I Wish I’d Known about Managing My Son’s Diabetes.”

Small world stories: the intern and the summer job

Interns Patrick O'Connor and Veronica Jones at our May 2011 cover shoot.

When we interviewed him for a graphic design internship, Patrick O’Connor told us that he is often “quiet, initially.” When he started working with us last month, he proved to be just that. Hardworking, talented, eager to learn the ropes — and quiet.

So when he spoke up during an impromptu meeting I called in the art department Monday morning, I paid attention.

“I made it into the magazine,” he said. Quietly.

I looked at him, puzzled. He showed me a page in the June 2009 issue of our magazine. A page that included an ad for Hubbard Sports Camp.

“That’s me,” he said, pointing to the tall guy in the back.

Patrick is a 2005 graduate of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. He’s a December 2010 graduate of the University of Arizona, with a BFA in studio art and visual communications design. And during the summer of 2008 he was a counselor at Hubbard Sports Camp, where he coached a variety of sports for kids ages 4½-13.

Patrick clearly has a love of sports. While he was at UofA, he worked as a freelance videographer for Tucson’s Fox 11. He shot footage of football, basketball and soccer at three Tucson high schools. He also shot video for the UofA’s football team for both practices and games.

Patrick is juggling two internships these days. He spends the mornings with us and the afternoons at Tempe-based Boon, which designs and markets innovative products and gear for babies.

This capable young man, who favors plaid, button-down shirts and clean, fresh graphic design, is quietly securing  his place in a successful future.

Photos at top and bottom by RAK staff photographer Daniel Friedman.

Special thanks to Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams for enhancing the photo (circle) so we could see Patrick’s face in the group photo from the ad.

Being prepared for anything

Vicki shoots video of Laurie and Sam in their kitchen.

Laurie Ackerman of Gilbert says she’d “do anything” for Cardon Children’s Medical Center. I’m not sure this was what she had in mind.

Laurie agreed to open her home to us Monday for a RAK Video shoot, part of  our ongoing family health series with Cardon Children’s.  The topic? Being prepared for home emergencies. Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, editorial intern Veronica Jones and I showed up with Cardon Children’s Public Relations Specialist Lindsay Butler Carrillo at about 10. Emergency room physician Joseph Winchell, M.D. (who’d been up all night on a shift!) arrived a bit later. And for the next two hours, we pretty much took over the place.

Sam I am!

Vicki shot some video of Laurie and her 15-month-old son Sam, who then went outside to play in the backyard while Vicki interviewed Winchell. (I can’t even put a complete sentence together when I’ve been up all night but this guy was so articulate you’d think he did video appearances for a living.)

I’ll let you watch the video, scheduled to post Feb. 23, to learn what Winchell told us. What I will share is the reason Laurie Ackerman was so willing to make her home the venue for our shoot.

Sam was born in 2009, just before Thanksgiving. Laurie, who’d suffered from preeclampsia, took her healthy baby home, but by Thanksgiving Day she grew concerned that something was seriously wrong. Her son’s stools were bloody. In fact, he was bleeding. Her doctor told her to watch it for awhile. If it didn’t get better, she was told, take Sam to the emergency room.

Playing with Mom.

That’s how she and Sam ended up at Cardon Children’s, where newborn Sam was admitted for two weeks while he battled a life-threatening blood infection.

Ackerman says the medical staff at Cardon Children’s saved her son’s life. That may be all in a day’s work to a doctor like Winchell, but to Laurie, it was nothing short of miraculous.

Photos (except the one below) by Veronica Jones.

Veronica Jones and Vicki Balint take pictures of a first aid kit at Laurie Ackerman's Gilbert home. Laurie is in the background; Sam was taking a well-deserved nap.

Is print dead? Not according to the next generation of journalists

We’ve had a steady stream of bright high school and college students interning at our office over the years. It is heartening to get to know these young people, many of whom aspire to careers in print journalism even as the future of the industry faces so much uncertainty.

I’m one of those (perhaps naive) believers that there will always be people who want to read something they can hold on to — perhaps not newspapers, because we all want our news delivered in real time, but certainly magazines, which offer opportunities for reflection, perspective, in-depth reporting, analysis and beautiful photography.

Between my own experience and that of my 25-year-old son Andy, a reporter for POLITICO, I’ve come to some conclusions about how young people should move forward in the field of journalism.

Continue reading

Writing letters of recommendation

Three young women are counting on me right now. They have various new directions looming in their lives. People out there who don’t know them, who are just looking at pieces of paper describing them, will soon be making important decisions about them.

I do know these young women, and I feel a heavy responsibility to help those other people make informed decisions about them. As they sort through dozens, or even hundreds, of applications, I want the documents these three young provide to stand out. I want whoever is reviewing the files to stop and say, “Wow. We’ve gotta have this one.”

These young women all have done their part. Their resumes and applications reflect their many accomplishments. All they need now is letters of recommendation. Each has asked me to write one.

So I am reflecting on the stand-out characteristics of these three women, each of whom has interned at Raising Arizona Kids at one point or another. One came to us as a college graduate. One came as a high school junior. The third I have known since she was a small child who would come to the office with her mom sometimes when she was not in school. As she grew in maturity and attention span, we put her to work.

Writing letters of recommendation is an honor because it means these young women value my opinion of them and trust me to help convey their strengths. But it’s a burden, too, because I want so badly to do them justice that I find myself facing the worst kind of writer’s block.

I’m not comfortable writing about generalities, though everyone admires qualities like responsibility and integrity. To feel good about my letters, I need to include specific examples that demonstrate the characteristics I want people to understand about the young people I am recommending. So this is where I start: racking my brain for the specific moments that made me take note, that made me think how lucky I was to have them here with us.

When my mind is weary from managing the minutia of a long, busy day, that’s not so easily accomplished. But I have to try. Because if what I write makes even the smallest amount of difference in making new and exciting opportunities available to these talented young women, it will be worth it.

Working with interns: A chance to get back into my 22-year-old head

When we first started accepting interns more than 15 years ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I’m someone who is better at doing what I do than explaining how to do it. And I’m not very good at asking for help.

So I found myself apologizing for assignments I considered “grunt” work — even though I knew the tasks were vital. Or worse, I’d smile and say “thanks” for work that I knew I would (resentfully) spend hours redoing myself.

I had the wrong attitude. I was looking at interns as extensions of myself and expecting them to know what I wanted. I didn’t understand when they “didn’t get” something that I thought was perfectly obvious.

Older now, and wiser, I wish I could go back and redo the mistakes I made supervising some of our earliest interns. But I can’t. What I can do is learn, try again and move forward. And with each intern we bring in, I get a little better at it.

Part of the challenge for me has been learning to accept that I do have something to teach these young people. They are all extremely bright, capable, high-achievers. They are comfortable in this fast-paced, high-tech world and they seem more confident and self-assured than I was at their age. Sometimes I feel I have more to learn from them than they have to learn from me!

A December 1978 graduate of the University of Guam.

When I was a college student eager to launch a freelance career, I didn’t have a laptop, a flip cam, a digital camera or an iPhone. I couldn’t do my research on the Internet. I had a pen, a notepad and a tiny, portable typewriter I carried around in a small wicker suitcase.

Today’s tools make it easier to present a story but the basics of telling a story will never change. Some lessons resonate within any technological context.

I thought about that recently, while reviewing the first draft of a story editorial intern Brooke Mortensen submitted for our August magazine.

I’d sent her to a school in the Paradise Valley Unified School District to research a story about a unique partnership the school had formed with Arizona State University.

When she returned, she submitted a perfectly fine accounting of what she’d learned, in basic “he said, she said” journalism-school, news-reporting style.

As I read her piece I was transported back into my own 22-year-old head, remembering a similar experience submitting a story to an editor for the Pacific Daily News, a Gannett newspaper on Guam. I remembered his wise advice. And suddenly I knew what I had to do for Brooke.

Though it was a Saturday, and she was visiting family in central Washington state, I sat down to write her an email.

I told her about a time when I was her age, trying desperately to make some money as a freelance writer as I finished my college degree at the University of Guam.

I submitted a story to the newspaper’s Islander magazine — one of three interviews I’d conducted with former Guamanian governors. My editor, Floyd Takeuchi, read the piece and told me it was solid. But then he threw it back to me and said, “Where were you? I can’t even tell you were in the room!”

My “he said/she said” style was “by the book,” according to my journalism news reporting training. But I was writing for a magazine, he said, which is very different.

“What did you see?” Floyd demanded. “How did it feel to be in the room? How did he look while you were talking with him? What were his mannerisms? What was on his desk? Give me some ‘color’ — some details that will help me get a better feel for who this man is and what he’s all about.”

I searched my mind for details and added descriptions about the man’s brusque confidence, the guarded way he answered some of my questions, the “hop to it” deference I saw in members of his staff. Floyd published the story.

The experience taught me something I really needed to learn: There are reporters and there are writers. I wanted to be a writer.

I shared my story with Brooke because I think that’s what she wants, too.

A yellowing copy of the July 1978 article I wrote for Islander magazine about three of Guam's former governors.