Why I Always Ask: Lessons From My CBS Internship

By Rachel Gordon

At the beginning of my internship at CBS News I was told to make use of every momenRachel Gordont I was given.  I needed to make as many contacts as possible, become to the go-to intern and secure a reference in one swift movement.

When I heard this advice I felt a wave a tension flow over me.  In my first internship the summer before, I didn’t utilize myself nearly as much as I should have –I simply didn’t ask enough. I made excuses. I don’t want to bother this person, or that other person is too intimidating, or why would they even care to talk to me? But this past summer at CBS, I always asked.

Whether it was about an edit I wanted to make, a meeting with a producer at another show, or if I could help with the second part of a segment, I asked. I learned from my first internship before this summer that it was all too easy not to.

At one of our first workshops, CBS News President David Rhodes gave us a simple direction: do every job.

It seemed simple enough. Weren’t we here for that very purpose? To complete every task that we were assigned, with meaningful purpose, a bright smile, and a slight twinge of untainted intern bliss?

As I watched the twenty-somethings around me follow this advice closely, I continued in step, unremitting: I did every archival search, lexis-nexus research packet, tape logging, and scanned image I was assigned. Other tasks included AP image searches, and occasionally we could attend a shoot with a producer.

I realized within a short amount of time, however, that this was not how I was going to gain the tools needed to make me an indispensible entity – whatever that even means– but rather, I needed to be inquisitive. I needed to do every job, of course, but I also needed to ask.

Now, employees and producers could have every hour, second, and minute virtually accounted for. Everyone I met at CBS Sunday Morning was affable, brilliant, and visionary, and had about 65 million tasks that need to be completed by this or that deadline. Producers had no hesitation in asking interns for help with tasks, but this wasn’t when I acquired the skills and knowledge to expand my frame of reference.

There was a producer who I routinely approached for assignments, and she routinely responded that she was all set. One day, she emailed me asking for a transcription of an interview. She explained that she normally didn’t ask interns to do this, but she was in a time crunch.

She finally sent me back the rough script, and as I read through it, I toyed around with different wording and sound bites, changing a sentence here, moving the narration there. I went to her office door and my chest tightened. I gripped the parcel in my hands.

I lightly knocked and entered. I showed her my work. She asked, “Have you taken a class on this stuff?” I nodded. “This is really good. We should go through this together.”

Using this as the impetus for the rest of the summer, I continued to ask. During one commentary shoot that I sat in on, the script needed to be shortened. I saw an edit that I thought was feasible, and I asked—and they changed it accordingly.

Later on, I was set up with six other interns to make a three-minute news package. We were given equipment, a mentor, and six days to find, film, and make a story, with one day to edit. Each intern had to pitch a story, and our supervisor would help us with the final pick. I pitched my story to my group, about a college professor who founded an educational partnership with the jail on Rikers Island, and to my surprise, they chose it. Going on to produce this segment, everything I had learned in my college broadcast classes and over the last month felt surprisingly tangible—even if the final project was dissimilar to my first vision of the story.

Most college students at a given internship have the echoing sound in their ears of a ticking time bomb urging them to make a supreme impression, secure valuable connections and become the coveted intern. It’s the time to make mistakes, do every assignment with jubilation and work long hours for no pay. Internships are the time to explore the field and your future without next month’s rent hanging over your head. However, it’s much too easy to just be a passive player. Doing what’s asked of you is great – but it’s the interns who are hungry for more, who look for connections outside of their immediate circle, and who have just a touch of aggression who will succeed. There’s always going to be someone more assertive who’s going to get the project that every intern wants, or someone who drinks coffee—not “gets coffee” for the CEO you were too intimidated to email. And that audacious go-getter will get the job – so why not challenge them with your own vehement drive?

See Rachel Gordon’s Report on an “Inside Education”.

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