While attending the Princeternship Orientation, I remember our career services representative told us students, “Remember to be flexible during the Princeternship experience. Some Princeternships may be more chaotic or hectic than others.”
Indeed, later my alumnus would describe his job as “chaos, but a good chaos, a functional chaos.” Thus, I definitely did not know what to expect from this Princeternship experience, but I was excited to begin. I commuted via subway from where I was staying in New York City to ABC News’ office, which is near Lincoln Center and west of Central Park. The alumnus I would shadow, John Griffin ‘99, is the Special Projects and Mobile Editor at ABC News. I learned quickly that my days did not have a set routine, but instead varied greatly depending on issues in the newsroom. Usually we would figure out our agenda for the day by checking his very busy email inbox. Many turn to him when they have something that needs troubleshooting, earning him the nickname GRIFF: “Gripes Resolved in Fast Fashion.”
After greeting each other, he toured me around ABC News, and I saw rooms full of monitors, teleprompters, video feeds, green screens, cameras, and lights. The newsroom where he worked was full of computers and monitors. The sounds of ringing phones, journalists calling sources to interview them for their latest piece, keyboards clicking away, and iPad alerts all reverberated through the air.
On his computer at his desk space, Mr. Griffin showed me Chartbeat and Newsbeat, which show real-time ABCNews.com web statistics about where traffic is coming from. He told me about the importance of SEO or Search Engine Optimization, and how you want to keep the “bounce rate” low, improve linkage by using Facebook or Twitter, and package the story to fit search keywords. He also taught me about sponsorships, how different companies or organizations purchase ads and how ABC News has to meet a certain impression goal and keep track of pacing. Additionally, you do not want to associate some sponsors with certain articles. For example, if someone is reading an article about Occupy Wall Street, you would not want to have a banner of Goldman Sachs on that same webpage.
Later, on TVs around the newsroom, I noticed the ABC News channel had the headline: AIRCRAFT HIT BY EXPLOSIONS and felt alarmed. That is, until I noticed the words “DRILL…DRILL…” scrolling horizontally across the screen. I learned that broadcast companies often hold news drills, which are used to test operational readiness and communication in case one day there is an actual unexpected emergency that needs broad coverage. Anchors in the newsroom and on site improvised and reported as though this explosion was a real event, and the TVs showed “footage” of the event. News networks have to be careful, however, to not make people think this is real news and cause panic by showing this coverage on live TV.
My alumnus then gave me journalism tips. He emphasized how for breaking news, it was important to try to get your article out there first, although accuracy must not be sacrificed. He showed me some humorous web writing headlines. About Osama Bin Laden’s Death: “Has Bin”; about Steve Jobs being forced to issue free cases for a poorly-functioning iPhone 4: “Let Them Eat Case”; about the U.S. Army unwittingly supplying trucks to both sides of the Afghan war: “Oh, Truck,” and others: “Slipping on Greece,” “Obama Culpa,” “To Russia, With Flub.” He taught me about “the art of the tease,” how it’s not always best to tell your audience when you can tease them. Pose a question, involve the audience, try to make it about the viewer, and raise the stakes, such as: “Is even more of your income now at risk?” For broadcast writing, use active words, called “the flying -ing.” “However,” he said, “don’t sacrifice facts for cleverness.”
My workday ended early that day, but I was told I could return at 6:30 pm for some optional work. I decided to go back since I would be able to do more hands-on work. I entered the Digital Media Room, which was full of monitors, as well as sound and editing equipment. Mr. Griffin showed me the four-minute long news briefs ABC News would make for mtvU, including episodes of “Don’t Know Much About History” series with best-selling author Kenneth C. Davis. My alumnus showed me the basics of how to use Avid NewsCutter Software. “You just have to learn how to get used to it over time, and with practice, you can play it like a piano,” he said, racking between different keys on the keyboard with ease. He taught me about audio and video layers for the sequences and splicing. I helped him do a little bit of editing for one of the clips by ending cuts before large audio gaps in order to keep the dialogue’s fast pace.
The next morning I printed out PowerPoint slides in preparation for ConEd (or Content Editor) training, which I also attended. ConEd is used to generate articles and manipulate the homepage. After that, I got to do some hands-on work using WordPress, which ABC News generates their blogs from, and spent the next few hours editing author credit on articles.
Before lunch, we explored the studio labyrinths within ABC News and got to see old sets that were ripped apart to be used for later productions in the spring or summer. I saw where they used to shoot “The Tony Danza Show,” as well as the current set they use for the food show “The Chew,” and the now empty set for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” We wandered through old control rooms and previously used make-up and dressing rooms.
As we came back to his office space, I saw a woman walk by who looked vaguely familiar. “Was that…Barbara Walters?” I managed to say. “Yup,” my alumnus responded without even looking and returned to his email. Later, Diane Sawyer would film here to have this newsroom as a backdrop.
Michelle, a publicist at ABC News, came by (she later was kind enough to give me a cap with ABC News printed on it). Mr. Griffin helped her fix the HTML coding of webpages displaying ABC News’ Emmy Nominations for 2011, which were created so that judges would be able to see the material clearly. For example, one of the entries was an interactive virtual Westminster Abbey created around the time of the royal wedding.
Mr. Griffin and I ended our last day with lunch at Shake Shack (where I had a delicious “purple cow” grape soda float). He emphasized, “don’t ask what you can learn how to do yourself,” and how it is useful to have knowledge about how to do a wide variety of things, not just have one skill. For instance, even though he does not know all the intricacies of the HTML language, he taught himself the practical applications of HTML. He also told me about how it is important to find a job that fulfills you in not only a moral sense, but also in an esoteric, soulful sense.
This Princeternship was a great opportunity since it provided me with valuable and interesting insight into the field of broadcast journalism and editorial and I would definitely recommend it to others. Mr. Griffin was very friendly, helpful, and informative. Although I am considering applying my passion for writing more to creative writing, video games, or film, the ABC News Princeternship taught me valuable lessons about writing, communication, software programs, and the role of entertainment and news media in today’s world.