Summer in a Big State


by Lindsey Bomnin

They say everything is bigger in Texas, but I had to see for myself, so I accepted an internship with the Austin American-Statesman last summer. The only problem was, the newspaper wasn’t big enough for me, and neither was the newspaper industry, as I came to find out by the end of the summer.

I was assigned to the metro section. Assistant Metro Editor Dave Harmon, a former sports reporter and one of four metro editors, took me under his wing. He vetted, assigned and edited stories.

For my first few articles, we went through the editing process together. I became aware of the bigger common mistakes I made and learned how to keep every graph succinct and clean.

During my first day on the job, I was sent to help cover a high school fight that broke out in one of Austin’s popular watering holes. I talked to a few kids and one told me that the cops had used a Taser gun on someone. Harmon had doubts about publishing that information since it came from a high school student who hadn’t witnessed the use of the Taser, but we included it with the student’s approval. The next day I got an embarrassing phone call from an Austin Police Department official asking for a retraction. That was the first of a few mistakes I made throughout the summer, and the most memorable.

I alternated between writing daily stories and sitting at my desk, combing the Internet for potential stories. Some days, I’d chase down information about police reports and convicts. One delinquent tried to hold up a gas station with a caulking gun, and it almost worked. That turned into a story. Other days, I’d cover press conferences or pick up tips that the paper received. Usually I had a story in the paper.

I became the resident disc golf reporter. Disc golf is a popular sport in Austin that combines Frisbee and golf. I covered the potential loss of Austin’s oldest disc golf course and was subsequently harassed by a veteran disc golf enthusiast who was also a long time harasser of other reporters about a myriad of topics.

I wrote a business feature about a company called GoodPops, started by a Mexican couple interested in making frozen treats for their kids. Within a week, small companies started to e-mail me about their unique salsa or organic chips. I quickly found out that Austin is full of small, food-related businesses looking for a little publicity.

My longest summer endeavor, and my proudest, was an article about an Austin couch surfer who spent the night on 20 couches in 15 cities and hosted more than 70 couch surfers through a free, online travel community called CouchSurfing. The epitome of an Austinite, the couch surfer was a dreadlocked, vegan yoga instructor whose life goal was to find inner peace.

The article got a lot of newsroom attention and drew some online commentary; it was also my first professional feature and personal profile.

Harmon had me cover the police beat periodically. I greeted an empty newsroom at 5 a.m. to round up the crime and fires from the previous night. I recorded short morning newscasts and went to the courthouse to search for newsworthy affidavits. They yielded a few stories, including one about a man arrested for stealing copper from the city light poles and another about a man charged with selling marijuana on craigslist.org.

Summer was generally a stagnant time for news, as Harmon and other editors said it would be. By mid-summer I was bored. I was actively seeking stories and covering news, but I was losing interest in my internship and print journalism.

So President Obama’s visit to Austin during my final week at the paper instantly became the highlight of my summer. Reporting from the airport tarmac, I tweeted about the president’s arrival and departure in celebrity fashion, and my coverage was included in a front-page story.

There was even time for another front-page story when the interns were sent to cover a local balcony collapse that injured 26 people, including the homeowner. Investigating further, we discovered that the balcony did not have the necessary permits and was not built to code. We learned everything we could about the homeowner through family, friends and neighbors, though we were not able to speak with him.

Ending my internship with two front-page stories validated my experience at the Statesman. It also strengthened my desire to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, which I had been leaning toward before I started my newspaper internship. The Statesman taught me that a strong background in writing is irreplaceable as a journalist, and I have a portfolio of more than 30 articles to prove this.

I probably won’t end up in a state as big as Texas for a while, but I might be found in small-town America, working my way up through the smallest of broadcast markets in a reporting job that requires me to carry around my weight in camera equipment.

Related:
The Skinny on the Statesman

Lindsey A. Bomnin is a journalism and political science senior at Emory University. She was a Summer 2010 Chips Quinn Scholar at the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman. In 2010, Bomnin started a newscast at Emory, Emory News Now, a student-run and -produced news show. She is a staff writer for The Emory Wheel, the student newspaper, and was a copy editor for the Emory Political Review. She works for the Emory Alumni Association as the communications assistant and is an intern at NBC Miami this summer.

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