My last day of my Chicago Sun-Times internship began very much like my first day.
I was well-dressed, coffee in hand and fumbling to find my reporter’s badge that would get me into the newsroom. I thought it would be a transitional day. It was a Friday. Everyone in the office knew of my impending departure, so they couldn’t pile on any more story assignments.
But if I’ve learned anything in these past 10 weeks of being the summer intern at a big city daily newspaper, I should know not to set any expectations of what was to come.
I stepped into the elevator that would take me to the tenth floor of 350 N. Orleans — the location of the Sun-Times newsroom — when my phone rang. The city desk was calling.
“Hello?” I said walking into the elevator where I knew the call would drop.
“Hey Jordyn,” my morning editor said. “How would you like to go down to the federal courthouse today and cover the Michael Jordan trial?”
And like that, my last day of my first daily newspaper internship started.
The Sun-Times is one of two newspapers in my hometown. It’s Chicago’s oldest continuously running paper. Rivaling the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times covers metro, entertainment, sports and obituaries for the nation’s third largest city. It’s the paper I grew up seeing at CVS, newsstands on street corners and in the hands of CTA commuters before they were replaced by Blackberries and iPhones.
I knew I wanted to intern at a daily newspaper this summer. I had my eyes set on the Sun-Times internship about a year before when I first visited my mentor at the newsroom. At the time I had one journalism internship and three years on my school newspaper experience under my belt.
But soon, I was the Sun-Times’ cub reporter. (And, no, I’m not the reporter in charge of covering the Chicago Cubs, but in the newspaper business it means a young or inexperienced reporter. It’s just one of the many jargon words I learned this summer.)
On my first day at the Sun-Times, I earned a byline in the paper by interviewing an Illinois state representative. The next day I retrieved important documents down at the federal courthouse. As the weeks wore on and my interest grew more focused, I teamed up with the education reporter and went to School Board meetings, worked on a five-week investigative piece and wrote human-interest stories on Chicago Public School students.
Along the way I saw former principals, high school classmates and an inside look into the school system that had directed my path to higher education and my career in journalism.
Now, I was racing to get to the newsroom to tell the city desk editor that “Yes! I want to go down to the courthouse and cover the MJ trial. Oh, and sorry for the call dropping. I have T-Mobile.”
When I raced past the rows of desks — many of them empty because of the paper’s constant downsizing — I looked at all the reporters who had made me a better one. It’s funny, when things come to an end, you often idealize the beginning while rarely remembering what the middle looked or felt like.
All the reporters, typing away on their laptops, with phone cradled on their shoulders to their ears, asking the hard questions to whoever was on the receiving end of their call, all took the time to shape my middle experience.
They helped me learn when I made mistakes. The first few days, I shot my iPhone video vertically instead of horizontally.While covering the Blackhawks rally I broke the cardinal rule of man-on-the-street reporting by forgetting to ask for the ages of my interviewees. There were times when I took the CTA brown line when I could have taken the purple line to arrive at my destination quicker. But after each slip-up a reporter coached me on improvements. Throughout the rest of my internship I always fell back on those conversations to better handle my assignments.
When someone believes in you it can open doors. I truly believe that’s what the Chicago Sun-Times did for me.
I remember stressing out this past spring semester when I thought I wouldn’t be offered an internship. My parents and close friends can attest to my high stress levels. It all dissipated when I received a phone call from the Sun-Times internship coordinator who said “Would you like to accept our internship? We only have one to give out each summer and we would like you to join us.”
Elation. Shock. Gratefulness. Maybe if you add up all those words it still wouldn’t begin to express how much emotion I felt at the time.
And I drew on those emotions. Even when I was sent out in the pouring rain with tornado sirens in the distance to cover Game 6 of the Stanley Cup championship that resulted in a win for Blackhawks. I drew on those emotions when I drove from Jewel-Osco parking lot to Jewel-Osco parking lot to ask people how they felt about the city’s plastic bag ban. I drew on those emotions when standing in front of Westinghouse College Prep trying to get disgruntled principals to stop and comment on budget cuts right after leaving the CPS budget cutting meeting. (Yeah, that was a tough one.)
And I drew on those emotions when I saw the sometimes grim reality of what the newspaper business in 2015 looks like.
In the two months I was there, I saw three reporters and one managing editor leave. But in that time my love for journalism and dedication to the print production never wavered.
This feeling could best be summarized by what one editor said after the latest downsize: “Back to business. We still have a paper to put together.”
I truly believe forfeiting my carefree weekends to work the Saturday shift or adjusting my sleep pattern to be alert during the night shift reinforced my intentions to become a reporter. The last minute changes to my schedule, the quick research I had to do before impromptu interviews, the havoc summertime humidity wreaked on my hairstyles all gave me a taste of what the real world is going to be.
So as I spiral into adulthood during my senior year at the University of Southern California, I know I’ve been given a firm grasp of reality at the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper business is unstable. But good journalism, I’m certain, will remain a tenant of society. And importantly, it has become a part of me.
I should probably wrap this blog post up before I get teary-eyed and break another cardinal rule of journalism: No crying.
When I reached my editors desk I saw he was trying to call me back, probably wondering what happened to me on the other line.
“I’m here,” I said walking up to him. “And yes, yes, yes I’ll go down to the courthouse.”
“Great, so today’s proceedings start at 10:15. Can you get down there by then?” my editor asked.
I looked at my watch and saw that I only had 15 minutes to get to a place that was 20 minutes away. But I would figure it out. I would do anything to say I covered Michael Jordan.
Still juggling my coffee, reporters badge and computer bag — like I had done on my first day — I raced out of the newsroom, past the rows of reporters desks, past the sounds of phones ringing, past the famous Sun-Times front pages, past the place that had effectively become my home.
Yes, I would do anything to cover Michael Jordan. But, I knew, it was truly because I would do anything for the Chicago Sun-Times.
It’s my way of saying thank you for taking a chance on this cub reporter.