Nearly three years ago, I started an internship for our local newspaper office. In commemoration of the experience, I’m sharing my favorite memories and tales.
The reason how I started my internship was a coincidence, I guess you could say. I was a sophomore in High School, and a new reporter for our student newspaper. Central Elementary, a school that was constructed in 1939 following a devastating fire that destroyed the original that was built sometime in the 1830s, was being demolished. For many, this was big news – as almost all students in the town passed through there at some point. My mother even attended school there, and it was somewhat heartbreaking for her to loose a part of her history.
However, age had caught up with the school and, in 2010, a new school was built. Various programs were relocated to Central, but its underrated electrical system, lack of central air conditioning, and wear-and-tear was seen as unnecessary. The school board passed the decision to voters in a (trickily-worded) ballot, which passed.
On October 15, I was walking home when I happened to see the Superintendent “prepping” Central. I asked him when the building was coming down, and he said tomorrow. By this point, the “demo date” had been pushed back several times due to weather.
The next day, me and two other student newspaper staff members drove to Central to photograph the entire thing. While heartbreaking for many, it helped kick start my internship. My article was published the very next day.
The Computer Problem
As a student intern in a relaxed place, I would occasionally drop in to write articles. While all the other staff members had iMacs on their desks, I didn’t have one. It was either BYOPC (at a time when my only laptop – and for a while my only computer – was a netbook) or resort to the “hand-me downs.” There was a first-generation MacMini on my desk, but the power supply was lost and thus rendered it nearly useless.
Thankfully, there was another option. The manager came in with this giant, black box and plopped it on my desk. This was followed by a large CRT monitor that matched in matte black.
If you couldn’t tell, the computer was an IBM ThinkCentre. Usually I’m a huge fan of IBM and Think products (if you couldn’t tell from my website… this post is being written on my trusty ThinkPad T420), but this computer and I didn’t get along at all.
It was so sloooooow. It was slow to the point where it seemed to do nothing for ten minutes while (oddly) ramping up and down the heatsink fan. Windows XP took 10 minutes to boot, and Notepad took another 5 or so minutes.
In a previous life, the computer was hooked up to the Pitney-Bowes mailing system the office used, which printed stamps for outgoing mail. Thus, it had Pitney-Bowes software that would instantly freeze the computer when loading.
I had one time made the huge mistake of taking the thing online. It was a horrible experience complete with nothing. The computer just sat there for 30 minutes while attempting to render the Internet Explorer 7 window. At that point I somewhat gave up and started bringing the AspireOne.
The monitor that the manager brought in was going bad. One day I turned on the ThinkCentre and head this extremely loud high-pitch sound coming from my office as I stepped out while the machine booted. The noise was so loud that it could be heard across the building from my office. The high-voltage circuitry in the CRT must’ve went defective, and I immediately unplugged the thing to avoid six-foot flames and smoke coming from it.
The ThinkCentre had other problems, too. It sounded like someone had placed an airport across the street – as the CPU heatsink fan would constantly ramp up and down. (Having a Pentium 4 “SpaceHeater” inside doesn’t help, either.) The USB ports on the front panel were shorted – so every time I plugged something in the computer would freak out and give me a “USB Overcurrent” message – strangely, that happened almost immediately.
I found the power supply brick for the MacMini in a box of random things in a random closet and replaced the ThinkCentre. For old times sake, when revisiting to write one last article – on a food drive that our post office was doing – I tried to write the entire article on the ThinkCentre. Surprisingly, it was more cooperative and even IE 7 worked somewhat better. And yes, it was able to load webpages just fine. But no, it wasn’t lightning fast. In the end, though, I finished the article on the trusty T420.
One of my first assignments following Central Elementary was to write a “10-25-50-75” article. In essence, what happened in the area 10 years ago, 25 years ago, 50 years ago, and 75 years ago. This required some research, but all of my resources were in house.
The morgue(s) were two rooms filled with old back issues of newspapers, dating back to the early 1930s. There were older issues, but they were off-limits (for good reason) as the paper they were printed on was literally falling apart.
The morgue books were HUGE and heavy. Each weighed approximately 5 or 6 pounds, and was hard to carry because of their huge size. In many cases, the paper was falling apart and a paper dust would fill my desk and get everywhere on me. The morgue rooms themselves were cold and sterile – as they had no heat in that part of the building (the part used to serve as a storage room before being emptied.)
I also did a great deal of my research on Central using the morgues.
The Hidden Secret
One day, the editor gave me a book after it was sent to him and he was unable to write the article about it. I read the book and the note associated with it and was almost instantly hooked.
While the book had no bearing on our town other than it was published with the help of the author’s daughter-in-law who lived just out of town. The article was written.
What was interesting about this article is that about a month later my editor asked me if it was okay if the article was partially syndicated. I agreed, and asked him who wanted to syndicate it. None other than the New York Times asked to use bits and pieces from my article in their own article. It was extremely interesting, especially for a high school sophomore.
Sadly, the NYT never wrote the article on the book.
As with all other good things, my internship came to an end. Officially the internship ended in February 2015. I returned in May 2017 to write one last article, which many claimed was a “vast improvement” over my previous articles.
Every year, the Boonville post office participates in a food drive which the Letter Carrier Union organizes. Nobody (at least to my knowledge) had written about the drive, so I did just that.
The IBM ThinkCentre got dusted off and rebooted. The first section of the article was done using it, and it was actually cooperating with me and the internet. However, I decided to just move the article to my T420 to finish writing it at home.
Unlike previous times where I typically stayed indoors and wrote articles on information already had or called people, I actually went out into the community for this one. The post office was helpful (although not as helpful as I originally wanted, but rightfully so) with allowing me to cover the story and get into contact with people that could help me. The organizer was a retired letter carrier who was extremely helpful and gave me lots of information to work with.
I also got access to take pictures during the event, inside of the post office. (Let’s be honest: the back part of the post office is mostly secretive, as they typically won’t let just anyone back there.) It was an interesting experience because I got to see a different side of these members of our community. Parents of friends that I knew were actually mail carriers, one of which was extremely outgoing to “pose” for the camera.
The one thing I disliked about that day is the waiting and the driving. When we were dispatched, I rode with three other volunteers (one of which worked for post office) that would jump out and collect the food. I took pictures. After we returned, it was up to me to get pictures on my own of actual carriers (not volunteers) collecting food items. If you thought tracking down a mail carrier is easy, you should rethink that when you actually need to get that “money shot” for the front page. As previously mentioned, when I finally tracked one down – right before she got back in her truck and buzzed off to the next block – she let me take a few pictures.
Then came the waiting. After returning from lunch for the final weigh-in, it took about three to four hours for everyone to show up. In the mean time, the aforementioned carrier (who let me take a few pictures) baked a delicious cake that still was one of the best cakes I’ve tasted.
After three or four hours of waiting and talking with volunteers from the food pantries and the organizer (everyone else went home), the final truck pulled in and was quickly unloaded by all of us so that we, too, could go home. The final weigh-in was tabulated and I went home to wrap up the article.
(Interesting side note: I decided to use the picture in this post as my published image. It was oddly taken when I was in the truck with the other volunteers, and not when chasing carriers. Nonetheless, it was one of the best images I had taken of 900, with the runner-ups being taken by ones taken during the waiting period, the weigh in, and the carrier who posed.)