Sunday, August 05, 2007

My Wall Street Journal Internship: A Brief Look Back and a Look Ahead

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Although my Wall Street Journal internship officially ended Thursday, unofficially it came to a close Friday, when a few of my coworkers treated me to dinner at the Alchemist and Barrister restaurant and bar in Princeton, N.J. Tyler, the other intern, had already departed from New Jersey earlier that day to go back home to North Carolina, so basically I was the center of attention---a rather uncommon position for me, even throughout most of this internship, where, by the third day, I was pretty much blending myself into the group.

As much as I enjoyed hanging out with some of the people I've come to know and admire for possibly one last time (unless, of course, I get that monitor-desk position that I blogged about a couple of entries ago, the one that might be able to get counted for internship credit from Rutgers in order to finish off my journalism major and allow me to graduate), my last shift Thursday evening was more memorable for me. Throughout the shift, people were coming up to me left and right, saying their goodbyes and their good lucks...but I also did my own victory lap, saying my own goodbyes to not only other copy editors, but also a few of the reporters on the other side of the room that I came to know during my 10 weeks there.

I didn't shed any tears, but it was a little sad to say goodbye to these people, nearly all of whom were extremely nice and helpful to both of us during our stay here. Even when I was faced with the most difficult of headlines to write in the smallest of spaces, I think I can sincerely say that I enjoyed my 10 weeks there. Yeah, I suppose I did learn a lot about copy editing in general, but I think it'd probably be more accurate to say that I learned a lot about what is expected from copy editors on The Wall Street Journal. I learned just as much by observing others as I did editing copy on my own. And of course it was cool to get a near-complete glimpse into what goes into putting out a paper every day---in the end, we copy editors are only one part of an assembly line that is expected to put out a first-rate product on a daily basis, especially one with the full weight of prestige and history behind it as this publication does.

I'm normally not one to enjoy the anonymity of assembly lines---hey, I rail against assembly-line product when it comes in the form of movies and music all the time. But while it's not like copy editors are celebrated nearly as much as reporters and editors-in-chief or anything, I found myself developing an enjoyment out of catching errors and coming up with informative yet attention-grabbing headlines (even if most of my headlines ended up getting reworked or rewritten by the slot editors---not that I feel bitter about that or anything; in fact, I'm glad for the extra eyes on the copy I'm assigned to edit). I caught quite a few major misspellings and factual errors during my 10 weeks, and almost all of them felt satisfying to catch. Maybe I feel better about assembly lines when I feel the product coming out of that assembly line is something worthwhile.

Anyway, it was a very pleasant and even bittersweet final shift, and when I walked out of the South Brunswick, N.J., Dow Jones office for what may have been the final time, it really felt like the end of some kind of era for me---or, less hyperbolically, the end of an eye-opening, productive, fun stay at a summer camp. The fact that I was there to witness both a copy desk and an entire organization in transition---not only did we deal with the Bancrofts and the rest of the shareholders deciding whether or not to let Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. take over Dow Jones, but I also witnessed one copy desk chief leave for Hong Kong and another one take over---made my internship that much sweeter; it really was a rare privilege to work there at such a fascinating time in Dow Jones history.

Of course, how many summer camps come with an intense two-week pre-summer camp in which I have to go to class every day; take maybe five tests a day; memorize the AP Stylebook, the geography of the world, and other facts; and many other things? Still, as tough as Dr. Edward Trayes' copy-editing boot camp was in the moment, I'll cherish those memories too, if only because that experience was like no other classroom experience I've ever had.


Now that I have the rest of August without The Wall Street Journal, what, some of you may be wondering, will I be doing?

Obviously, I'm still searching for that fall internship---nothing official yet, but some solid leads and a handful of positive interviews. There are rumblings between my parents that a week-long getaway---possibly back to Acadia National Park in Maine. (We went there last year, and faithful readers, remember how that trip ended? With a bitter family argument and an early exit, punctuated by a scene of all of us yelling at each other in the car on our way out of the Howard Johnson's we were staying at in Bangor, Maine. Maybe this is my mother's implicit way of trying to erase that memory...?) And of course, I still have my subscription to Netflix and my DVDs. (Speaking of DVDs...God, I haven't written an official piece of film writing in quite a while! I should think of something to write about and get published...)

If nothing else, I can spend the next three weeks or so pondering what may lie in store for me in the future after I (hopefully) graduate in a few months. Will graduate school be in the cards? Do I want to saddle myself with more debt in order to go to grad school right after college...or do I perhaps want to wait a few years before I make the plunge?

An obvious question, of course, is: what about copy editing, especially after this (I think, successful) internship experience? On the basis of this internship experience alone, I think it's something that I would be comfortable doing as a day job to hopefully support whatever things I'm pursuing on the side. I'm still keeping my eye on the film-criticism prize, but I also have to think practically as well, and if it's true that copy editors are always in demand in the journalism world---heck, in the last couple of weeks at The Wall Street Journal, I was seeing a handful of new faces trying to make their way onto the copy desk---then that sounds as promising a field as any.

It must be said, however, that there is truth to the death knell that is being sounded by many regarding how long print journalism is going to last with the emergence of the Internet and the declining subscription numbers for print outlets. I have no problem believing that, in maybe a decade or two, America may be down to a handful of small print publications and that most of our news will be relocated to the World Wide Web. Is it really all that practical to toss myself into what may be a dying field, print journalism, and hope and pray that I'm able to keep that job for many years? Maybe not.

At this point, I don't have some kind of solid back-up plan in case casting my net into the copy-editing field becomes risky or impractical. Right now, I'm hoping that all these skills I've picked up over the years, as well as a bit of good sense and luck, will enable me to make good decisions and excel in whatever field I choose.

And hell, I haven't even given that much thought to how I plan to advance my film-journalism career. I mean, will that be what I go to grad school for? One thing I know: this will not end up being merely a pipe dream. I'm also pretty sure that I don't plan on being a copy editor all my life, as much as I may enjoy it right now.

Maybe the brutal truth is, I'm essentially in a similar position I was two summers ago, when I was dreading spending the next two or three years at Rutgers pursuing an accounting degree---unsure of my direction in life, perhaps even worrying about whether this current path is one I'm comfortable with. (Come to think of it, I was thinking the same things last summer, most likely.) Granted, I feel like I'm on surer footing right now than I did two years ago...but, as ever with me, the questions remain.


Anonymous said...

I suggest you take a Fall internship at a publication equal in name and reputation to the WSJ. It will be great for your resume in the future. After graduation you might want to take a copy editing job(again at a big name publication) and go to Grad School at night. As for the death of print journalism----well, even internet journalism will need editors and writers; so you will fit in someplace. Don't worry about that. Maybe the copy editing will lead to writing and maybe that writing might be in your area of interest, i.e. film. Its always possible.

And, take that family trip. Hopefully it will be happier than last year and it's these kinds of memories that will stick with you forever. You are running out of years to even take a family trip, so if its a possibility this year, go for it.

You have done great so far and are on the right path.

Kenji Fujishima said...

I suggest you take a Fall internship at a publication equal in name and reputation to the WSJ. It will be great for your resume in the future.

Well, that would be nice, and certainly it helps immensely to have The Wall Street Journal on my resume. Right now, though, I'm basically trying anything that both looks even remotely interesting and is somewhat related to journalism, copy editing or otherwise. So prestige is nice, but during my current internship search, I'm not limiting myself to "big" names.

I didn't think about night school; I'll consider it. Thanks for your suggestions.