Nick Niedzwiadek is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill who is a double major in journalism and political science. He has been a reporter and editor at The Daily Tar Heel. In the summer of 2015, Niedzwiadek was a Dow Jones News Fund editing intern, working at The Houston Chronicle. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his internship.
Q. Describe your internship experience. What was your typical workday like?
A. Typically I worked Tuesday-Saturday from 3-11 in the afternoon. The first hour was usually the slowest and was mostly spent waiting for the news director to decide what should get pulled off the wire and start planning out the pages for tomorrow’s newspaper. The first things that I would work on was usually the opinion page, and then wire stories about the Middle East and Asia because those were usually in well before the local stories would trickle in.
My internship covered most of the typical copy-editing basics: trim for length, write headlines, ensure AP style. I did some page design work, but the Houston Chronicle was in the process of revamping a lot of its workflow so the design team ended up taking over much of the design work that had typically been done by the copy desk.
The biggest change I saw was the push for the copy desk to add more online components to its responsibilities. There were training sessions to get the copy desk and editors how to work with HTML code and the WCM, which most people who have used WordPress would pick up very easily but was challenging for some of the longtime copy editors.
I also often moderated the comments section on stories on the free site, Chron.com (Houstonchronicle.com was reserved for subscribers), which I enjoyed but most of the regular people found very depressing, especially since it was a busy summer in Houston because of Sandra Bland’s death, the Supreme Court decisions, Jade Helm and the 2016 presidential race.
I would bounce between basically every section except features, which are done earlier in the day, but I would mostly only work on the sports section during weekends when the regular sports copy ranks were thin.
Q. What was the biggest challenge of the internship, and what was the greatest reward?
A. This was my first real experience being a copy editor and maintaining that attention to detail. I’ve been a reporter or an assistant desk editor in the past, and you touch on many of the same responsibilities, but there is always a backstop.
Being that last line line, especially at a major newspaper like the Chronicle where no one is there to hold your hand, was a constant challenge. You can get so caught up in writing a good headline in a tight space that you forget to properly format the photo caption and you have to go back into the story to fix it when you need to be moving on to another story in the rim.
A second challenge was that unlike The Daily Tar Heel where we CQ names and facts as much as possible, the Chronicle largely entrusted its reporters to be accurate and the copy editor mostly relied on past stories and Google to catch any inconsistencies. For the most part it works fine, but when a question does pop up, it can take a while to work its way back to a reporter to clarify, particularly later in the workday when reporters may have already gone home for the night.
Having said that, catching a significant error and saving both the reporter and the newspaper from an embarrassing correction is one of the moments that I always felt pride in. That and writing a strong headline package that made its way past the page-proofing stage and makes it out to print.
Q. What advice would you give to students considering applying for a Dow Jones News Fund internship?
A. Anyone considering considering the DJNF should make sure they have the previous internship experience that it requires because they are very strict about their application criteria.
Second, they should not take the application test lightly. Studying usage situations is very important, not just simple ones like its/it’s or there/they’re/their but the more obscure ones like canvas/canvass or Canada goose/Canadian goose. The test I took was the first one to start integrating online questions, so be sure to be comfortable with basic terms like SEO, WCM, entry-level HTML tags and some of the differences between editing for print and online.
Besides the great newspapers like the Chronicle, L.A. Times, Sacramento Bee and any number of great newspapers people from my workshop session at the University of Texas at Austin went to, the workshops offer a great opportunity to meet people from across the country who are interested in many of the same things you are and are facing the same challenges. In my workshop, we formed a pretty close sub-group on the first day and had a lot of fun around Austin. Once we went off to our various internships, we had a group chat and kept in touch throughout the summer and now the fall. Hearing about other people’s internship mishaps or successful job interviews can make the internship a lot less isolating, especially if you are like me and go to a city so far away from where you grew up or know people.
Q. Congratulations on completing the internship. What’s next for you?
A. I’m graduating in December, so I’m mostly focused on putting together my writing portfolio and resumé, and lining up applications for jobs (I’m from upstate New York, and I plan on moving to New York City after graduation so I’m focusing on the tri-state region).
In the meantime, I am finishing up the final few classes I need to graduate and then continuing to work at the DTH as a senior writer on the Investigations team as well as writing for the State & National desk. I’m mostly working on long-term projects for the I-team as well as blog posts and my personal reporting whims for the State & National desk.
I’m open to any number of jobs in journalism — except being a PR flak. Just the thought of writing a press release or saying the words “no comment” chips away at my soul, one piece at a time.