Philadelphia Inquirer Internship Reflection (5/23/06)

By Christopher Wink | May 23, 2006

It was January 16, 2006 that I was offered and I accepted an internship with the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was that very Monday that I accepted a position I hadn’t expected to get, a position with the city desk of a large, historical, urban daily.

I think about the semester I spent walking the streets of Philadelphia with an Inquirer ID around my neck and a steno pad stuck in my back pocket, those felt-tip black pens, Hermes, and DocCenter. I made mistakes, mistakes as inexplicable as your palms sweating when you go to shake some silly celebrity’s hand. I went to court without a pen, to a press conference without a pad, and an interview without both. I called detectives without remembering why and had quotes without remembering from whom.

I covered the courts on Fridays. Allow me to demystify that. Most weeks that meant I sat in the Criminal Justice Center on Filbert Street waiting for jury deliberations to end or chasing down grieving widows to get a quotation on how the verdict made her feel.

Otherwise, I was a general assignment reporter. Allow me to demystify that. That meant I would cover whatever was going on that was easy enough for an idiot intern to cover and wasn’t interesting enough for anyone else to. I kid. Mostly. I drove quickly to burning buildings in Germantown and North Philadelphia. I went to the zoo to see the new pumas, I went to the Convention Center to see the new cars, I went to neighborhoods throughout the county to find new information.

I worked with writers who wanted to help me, their colleagues who didn’t; editors that wanted to teach me, their colleagues who didn’t. I found just enough empathy on which to survive, tempered by the impatience and frustration that only those deserving respect can exude. I took soda and pizza from the copy editors and ate takeout food with men and women who were covering Inquirer beats before I had finished wearing diapers. I learned about searching for truth, covering lies, and avoiding deception. I was shown etiquette and ethics, I witnessed integrity and intellect.

All of which one might expect from the third oldest surviving daily newspaper in the country, a claim the Philadelphia Inquirer can boast. Founded in June of 1829, the Inky is working on 180 years of daily coverage of important news. In 1840 the Inquirer was the first American newspaper with exclusive rights to publish several novels by Charles Dickens. In 1845, the Inquirer printed Philadelphia resident Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and was known for its political support of Whig party candidates. During the War Between the States, the Inquirer was widely read among union soldiers and circulated within the confederate ranks. After falling behind the beloved and family-owned Philadelphia Evening Bulletin in the 1960s, new ownership came and turned the corner in the following decade. By the 1980s, the Inquirer was one of the most prominent newspapers in country, collecting seventeen Pulitzer Prizes in fifteen years. It is remarkable to me that these moments of national note and historical acclaim happened at the very Inquirer building on Broad and Callowhill that I entered at least twice weekly for almost half a year of my life. There’s a power to it.

Although the Inquirer has been on the decline since its peak in the 1980s and Philadelphia is in a collective state of defeatism, it still means something. That paper elicits the two emotions most representative of power and success, needless awe and critical condemnation. If I didn’t catch raised eyebrows and faces fighting the urge to speak to the media when I announced who I represented, then I heard snickers or snide remarks. When faced with organizations of legitimate importance there is rarely indifference. People tend to be impressed or tend to try with all their might to not be impressed. Criticism serves that purpose well.

Now, while the circulation of the Sunday paper, begun in 1870, has hovered around 700,000, Inquirer daily circulation no longer ranks in the top 15 U.S. dailies, sinking below 350,000.

But, I’ve been on the inside. I’ve walked through those heavy, gold doors of the Inquirer building, knowing it meant something, knowing this was an institution, one of Philadelphia’s truest, most meaningful landmarks. It made those walks along the streets of Philadelphia with my Inquirer ID and steno pad a little more special, and a little more memorable. I’ll always have that.

This followed the spring semester of my sophomore year at Temple University, during which I interned with the city desk of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ve continued to write for the newspaper, as you can see here.

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