Gratitude. Gratitude is all I feel for the KPA Internship I received this summer.
And even though the staff at Kentucky Publishing, Inc. (KPI), in Paducah, Ky., surprised me with a party on my last day of work, the summer was not filled with cake and ice cream.
In fact, some days were rather difficult.
There were times where I was unsure of myself, not knowing where the story I was writing should go next. I would stare blankly into my Microsoft Word document as the cursor would forever blink defiantly, and I would hope the words would magically appear so I could shift my focus elsewhere.
This unfortunately was not the case.
Often the commute from my home in Murray, Ky., to Paducah would drain me before I would get to the office. Though the trek was a mere 53 minutes, the stretch of Highway 641 between Murray and Benton, Ky., would mesmerize me before I could even reach I-24.
On my lunch breaks, I usually would forgo eating and nap for an hour on a black leather couch in the back of the office. This “second wind” was always enough to help me punch through the rest of the day, often with a much better attitude than when I arrived. By 5:30 p.m., I was so hungry I would speed to the nearest Arby’s for their new Turkey Asiago Club. I must’ve eaten that sandwich 15 times.
I also found out I’m not much for advertising. In a cash-strapped summer and buckled-down economy, it was hard to convince businesses to advertise with a newspaper, and I found myself becoming downtrodden and frustrated as each business I called would politely or not-so-politely turn me down. I wanted so bad to tell potential customers that their investment would provide column space and the pages necessary to print and deliver the news and educate people, but I had not the time, the patience or the resources to do so.
Every so often, a business would advertise with us on the premise that a reporter would contact them to do a story, obviously leading to a double advertisement and a really odd feeling in my stomach. As an intern, I was usually tasked to write such stories, and while I was more than eager to set my fingers to writing, a strange feeling would creep over me as I interviewed and researched topics related to the advertisement.
This is not journalism, at least not what I learned at Murray State University.
Maybe my definition of journalism is skewed. You see, I thought it was my job to come to you with a story, and not the other way around.
It would be naïve of me to say that selling newspapers is without business principles, and to remain an operating entity you must sell a certain amount to pay the bills and the workers and still make a profit. This much is true. But…was I selling out?
In a moment of crisis, I did a little digging and talked to a few friends about the subject, and apparently it’s more common of a practice than I thought. Publishers and writers are unfortunately bound by the almighty dollar, and to create white space, we often have to compromise and do whatever it takes to please the customer.
Amidst the tough times, however, were the diamonds in the rough.
Writing for a small newspaper, precisely the West Kentucky News, I was able to take my own pictures, write my own headlines and take calculated chances with my stories. Blank spaces in the copy soon became canvases, as I had the personal freedom of writing, photographing and basically printing whatever I saw fit.
It’s not like I disregarded AP style or my journalistic integrity, no, I was just not held within the confines of column-inches, specific story ideas and harsh deadlines.
I was able to make my own decisions, work at my own pace and develop stories as I gathered information. I could explore each and every option before me and take the news and report it in such a fashion that someone would want to read it. I could make mistakes and learn from them. I had the chance to practice long-form journalism, and I most certainly took the advantage. I could be creative.
I was free.
I did some pretty unique things, things I will never forget, things that I would have never been able to do unless I was learning to become a journalist.
I sat in someone’s living room and listened to them tell me about their canning business and how it had begun to flourish through word of mouth. I dialed in to a conference call with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as he discussed moving forward with grant and loan programs for green energy in the country. I took a motorized fishing boat to a floating barge classroom in the middle of the Ohio River, as the facility will be used to teach students about river wildlife and waterway commerce in the coming months. I took pictures of a local high school band for three consecutive days, chronicling their battle with sweltering temperatures and their quest to become the best marching band in the state. I went to a business conference at Murray State University to listen about the opportunities of biomass industry in the Pennyrile region.
But above everything, I learned something new each and every day. Sometimes I learned something about myself, other times it was about a new subject or about people in the area and the events transpiring around me. As a journalist, you want to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and I was fortunate enough to have an internship that could quench my thirst. It is for this that I am most grateful to both KPA and KPI for my opportunity this summer.