EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Three words can summarize my past two weeks at my pre-Wall Street Journal copy editing internship residency at Temple University: class, study and repeat.
Readers, I and 11 other Dow Jones Newspaper Fund interns have been holed up in Philadelphia for these two weeks---I returned from Philadelphia yesterday---with minimal contact with the outside world (notwithstanding one afternoon excursion to the heart of downtown Philly, which I get to later) and minimal internet access. My room at Temple had no internet access, and our professor only allowed us maybe an average of half an hour a day to check our e-mail, surf the Web, etc. The rest of the time was spent doing a variety of "fun" things like:
1. trying to commit to memory most of the Associate Press Stylebook;
2. trying to acquaint ourselves with the geography of the entire world---in other words, learning the names of all the countries and capitals of the world, not just of the United States; and
3. other things which required a lot of memorization and, above all, commitment.
A lot to put on anyone's plate, I'd say! Our daily schedule---which we all adhered to pretty strictly---didn't make things a whole lot better. Here's how it usually broke down for me:
6:30 a.m. or earlier: I wake up, usually bleary-eyed, and dutifully do my morning-routine stuff before packing up my loads of books.
7:15 a.m.: Off to breakfast at the campus dining hall---yes, my fellow copy editing interns and I had to eat (so-so) campus food on a daily basis.
8:30 a.m.: Our day of class begins. There was never really a set time for lunch, but usually it would be somewhere in the 12:00 p.m. hour. Then we'd come back and have some more class until...
5:30 p.m.: Dinner at...you guessed it, the campus dining hall again. ¡Muy delicioso!
Around 6:30 p.m.: We would all return to Annenberg Hall---our dorm---and brace ourselves for a night of relentless studying.
8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.: We developed a routine in which we all met in the fourth floor study room at around either time and studied in a group: working on maps, testing each other on our knowledge of the Stylebook, etc.
12 a.m.-1 a.m.: Our study group would disband and each individual would go off to their respective rooms and either study some more or just lie down and sleep until about 6:30 a.m. or so, when the cycle would begin again. I myself sometimes went to sleep later than that, at around 2 a.m., making for about four-and-a-half hours of sleep. I think, on average, I got maybe five hours of sleep a night. I'm not used to that.
Some of my fellow interns---and myself included---characterized this residency, half-jokingly, as a kind of "journalism boot camp." They're not too far off the mark. Consider: pretty much every day we had four or five tests in our various areas of study---Stylebook, geography, spelling among them. We had to carry about five pounds of books every day to class (okay, I may be exaggerating there, but it sure did feel like it, especially since my bookbag wasn't nearly big enough to store both the hefty Webster's New World College Dictionary and the Ultimate Visual Dictionary, and so I ended up having to carry them both in my arms). We always had to go everywhere in a group, and we weren't even allowed to step off campus to explore the surrounding area nightlife or anything. Not that we had much time to do so until, maybe, this past Thursday night, of course. The lack of seven or eight hours of solid sleep a night probably took its toll for me in the last few days of class, when I found myself struggling to stay fully conscious whenever my professor---a fantastically intelligent and ingratiating man, ideal for making any kind of boot camp experience bearable---wasn't talking to us in front of the room. (I'm not a coffee drinker at all, so perhaps the fact that I didn't join some of my classmates in consuming massive amounts of it every day probably added to the inopportune moments of drowsiness.) And yes, two weeks with severely limited internet access, for all of us reared in the age of modern technology, is nearly akin to being in some sort of prison. Heck, we even had class on Saturday and Sunday!
But we all soldiered on. We had to. For the sake of at least doing well in our respective internships, and maybe for the sake of our futures in journalism, we had no choice but to do our very best at Temple.
Additionally, even at its most grindingly arduous, I could certainly see the method to, and the meaning behind, the professor's madness. I mean, does anyone in their right mind actually expect us to be able to cram every single AP Stylebook entry and every single minute detail about world geography (and the professor's tests were pretty damn detailed) in one night? The point, when all is said and done, was visceral more than anything else: it was all about doing your best in tight deadlines and moving on if you didn't do something quite so well one day. In the journalism world, dwelling on past failures---something I've been prone to in my personal life, as some of you faithful readers may know all too well---is a "luxury" you can never really afford when you're faced with deadlines. Another purpose to this boot-camp style is perhaps more obvious: making you realize what you don't know and what you need to work on---I certainly learned to make checking the dictionary and looking at a world atlas a habit not only during my job, but also in my personal life in general---and also planting the seeds for a deeper knowledge of, say, geography or world leaders. These past two weeks confirmed for me that my knowledge of both those subjects---save occasional prominent newsmakers like Tony Blair, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamid Karzai, Kim Jong-Il and others---could use some work, to put it kindly.
In fact, one of my more depressing realizations over the past two weeks is just how lame and superficial my knowledge of global affairs is compared to...well, compared to my amazing peers, all of whom were infinitely more articulate in person and more colorful than I certainly was (at least, when I wasn't near-drunk, as I was on Thursday night). My peers have clearly thought a lot more deeply on subjects revolving around journalistic ethics or the state of the field today than I have, and they have a deeper grasp of, say, the Israel/Lebanon situation than I do (my exposure to that contentious, and wearisome, topic is limited to the little bit I read in online and print news reports). In other words, they're vastly more well-rounded than I am. Have I become so one-dimensional over the years that movie knowledge---probably my one claim to fame among this group of copy editing interns, other than my standout spelling acumen---has become nearly the only deep knowledge I have? That might not bode so well for my chances at becoming a better-than-average copy editor.
Perhaps, though, that's what this internship is there for---to try this out and see how I do. Maybe I'll surprise myself and do such an impressive job at the Wall Street Journal---oh yeah, deep business knowledge is something else I lack, even with my two years of taking business courses for the aborted accounting path---that I'll be considered for actual full-time employment at the Journal instead of just interning there. Or I'll do a mediocre job and realize that this may not be the thing for me. (One time during this residency, the class did an exercise in which we had to try to pick up subtle math errors in stories; I was lucky to have picked out any at all in any of the examples, whereas the rest of my class was picking up faulty math details left and right. Is my attention to detail that weak?) Like they all say, you'll never know if you don't try. And I certainly will try.
That's pretty much it regarding my two weeks of seclusion at Temple University. Oh yeah...Stockholm Syndrome, anyone? One could compare my professor (I'll leave him nameless here, but if any of my fellow interns is reading this, you know who I'm talking about for sure) to a hostage taker of sorts, keeping us hostage in the classroom and then in our dorm rooms. But he's just so darn smart and such a tough yet pleasant presence in the classroom---a grandfatherly figure---that you can't help but admire and maybe even love him. It's almost like hostages embracing the hostage-taker. You can't help it, though. He's been directing the Temple residency for 40 years now, and he seems as sharp as he probably was 40 years ago. He's a great resource to tap in the future, if needed. (I just wonder how much of a positive impression I left on him.)
And of course, our Saturday afternoon excursion to downtown Philadelphia, the rare instance in our two weeks when we were allowed to explore outside of campus. Among the places we visited was City Hall, Reading Terminal Market (flounder, anyone?), the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell, and finally bustling South Street, where we all ordered authentic Philly cheesesteaks of some sort and got a kick out of a naughty novelty store named Condom Kingdom. (The back of the store was devoted to porno DVDs, and one of them was a copy of the groundbreaking 1972 porno Deep Throat for a whopping $30!) One of the most fascinating sights, though, was the Magic Garden, a startlingly inventive assemblage of trash and tile mosaics assembled over many years to create an oddly beautiful work of art. (Isaiah Zagar is the name of the man who put the Magic Garden together.) I have a few pictures of the Magic Garden on my phone, none of which really convey the amazing totality of the experience.
All in all, it was a pretty eye-opening two weeks. I wouldn't call it fun exactly, but it had its playful moments amidst the barrage of academic stuff. I start work at my internship on Monday. Wish me luck!
P.S. Two random, inconsequential things I learned in Philadelphia:
1. At the National Constitution Center, I learned that there is apparently a swimming pool and a basketball court somewhere on the Supreme Court premises. Who uses that swimming pool or basketball court? Is Stephen Breyer more of a baller than we all know???
2. Through the Visual Dictionary entry on the human body, I found out what a pudenda is. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go look it up (a favorite saying of our professor's, "look it up"). Or, in this case, look down. You might just as hard as we all did when we found out what a pudenda was. Certainly, we all got it right when we got tested on our knowledge of the human body.