First, I learned how to behave around pseudo-celebrities. In the first week there, our boss took the interns out for happy hour at the Fox and Hounds, a place for which Barney Frank and I apparently share the same affection. He was seated at a table over from us, and I was a little starstruck. “Sharon, stop staring.” “Sharon, stop giggling like that.” “Sharon, stop trying to take his picture with your phone!” You get the idea.
The editor of TNR is Frank Foer, a kind of celebrity in himself. His brother is Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
I also learned that interviewing people is a lot different from being interviewed. You have to kn
ow your subject and ask your questions confidently, and when the interviewee doesn’t give a good answer, there are a couple tactics you can take:
1) “The Elise”: Get comfortable with silence, because most people aren’t. If you just don’t respond, most people will fill the silence with their own ramblings, sometimes giving up interesting information.
2) “The Dylan”: Calmly ask the question again. Hey, they didn’t answer the question—they deserve to be spoken to like a child. Ask it again and again until you get a satisfactory answer (or hung up on). Or, you can ask the question in subtly different ways so they feel more comfortable answering it.
3) “The Chris Matthews”: Play hardball. Point out the fact that they didn’t answer the question, and ask it again. If they still don’t, ask them for historical examples of the point they’re trying to make. If they can’t do it, laugh.
4) “The Friend”: Give a little piece of information about yourself that seems personal but actually isn’t, which should make the person feel more comfortable and they might censor their thoughts less and give better answers.
There are probably other strategies, but those are the ones I picked up on. Also, journalism in general is much more difficult than you’d imagine. This was my first experience in interviewing people and writing in a journalistic environment, and I learned so much. Journalism is tough to get into and make a stable living in right now, but my bosses were very encouraging. The day I left TNR, Greg Veis (web editor, my direct boss) called me into his office and basically offered to help out in the future if I needed it. I will need it, Greg, and I appreciate you being interested in the success of your former interns. Zvika Krieger is the other web editor, and he was every bit as helpful as Greg.
I learned a lot about how to write for the web. Academic writing is so much different from journalistic writing. It’s less formal and brevity is valued. In my last week there, I wrote a health care piece for Jon Cohn about insurance companies and the practice of “purging” customers who the insurer deemed not worth covering (too expensive, too many claims). Summarizing the relevant laws and fitting it to the style of a blog was more difficult than I thought it would be, but I think the post turned out pretty well. Jon was on The Colbert Report a few nights ago promoting his book, Sick. Check it out.
I lived in GW’s dorms, which turned out to be a much better experience than expected. I had my own room, the people in my hall were outgoing and fun, and we had a roof with a view of the Washington Monument. It was about three blocks from the White House, and when I walked to and from work (it was about a 30 minute walk--sometimes I took the metro) I walked past the White House. Here's a picture I took of it on my last walk home.
MTV’s Real World was filming in DC while I was there, which added a layer of potential excitement to any venture out. I only saw them once, coming out of the movies in Chinatown, and it was only a couple of the cast members surrounded by cameras. My friend from law school, Barbi, actually ran up and rang the doorbell to the Real World house. She said a cast member answered, gave her a weird look, and shut the door. At least she was brave enough to do it.
TNR does a regular thing called TNRtv where they interview politicians or experts, or debate an issue among the writers. On my last day, we took a picture of the wide view of the little studio they film it from:
And here's what it looks like up close, the way they film it:
(It was very hot in our office and extremely casual.)
The summer was a complete success, and I can't overstate how much I learned, but I am glad to be back. This will be my last year ever in school. It won't be nearly as difficult as the other years of law school, and I'm looking forward to enjoying the last year I'll ever be a student. Roll tide!