By Mary Elizabeth Dial

Editor’s Note: The APA Journalism Foundation awarded 15 $1,500 internships over the summer. Here is a report from The Messenger in Gadsden. This is just one example of the benefits of your pledges to the Foundation. If you have not made your pledge, please consider joining other APA member newspapers in supporting the Foundation.

I began working at The Messenger on May 31 and completed my internship on Aug 12. Although a part-time internship at a local newspaper was not what I expected my first post-graduation job to be, I am grateful for the opportunities it has afforded me to grow as a writer and to expand my skills outside writing.

I graduated from Auburn University with honors in May 2016. Although I had Summa Cum Laude printed on my diploma, I had no real plan for what to do after I left school. I knew I wanted to go to law school, but when I decided to take a year to prepare I had trouble finding a job for that time. In a minor panic, I contacted Craig Ford, co-owner of The Messenger, a community newspaper in my hometown of Gadsden. Mr. Ford is a family friend, and knowing about my education in writing and editing, he recommended me to The Messenger.

Diversification of skills and ideas will always be beneficial. I have learned to write and edit under deadlines in weeks rather than semesters, to conduct interviews rather than academic research, and to create visual companions to my writing through photography and photo editing.

The circumstances surrounding my employment were cause for anxiety. I worried that my new co-workers would think of me as someone who got a job with her dad’s friend because she couldn’t be bothered to find one for herself. This motivated me to prove I was worth their time, and I came into work eager to do anything that was needed.

I expected and was willing to do menial work that no one else wanted to do, but I was lucky enough to find an internship in a place that had a need for my skill set. My classwork at Auburn prepared me to write and edit under deadlines, so my anxiety melted away when I was asked to do something I knew.

Many people have asked me about what I do at The Messenger, and at the risk of sounding boastful I typically answer, “What don’t I do?”

In a small local paper, I learned that no one person has only one job. This situation worked to my advantage, because it allowed me to get my hands on a little bit of everything.

Over the past several weeks, I have worked as a feature writer, copyeditor, photographer, photo editor, and document designer along with dealing with customer service and office organization. I also managed The Messenger’s social media pages on Facebook and Twitter, allowing me to help the paper develop and maintain community engagement in an online format. All of this has come together to grow my portfolio and my confidence in my own abilities.

Among all my duties, my favorite is covering local events for stories and/or photos. At the end of my first week, I accompanied another Messenger employee to cover the grand opening of the new farmers market in downtown Gadsden. I was surprised when she asked me to take pictures while she got quotes from attendees, but I was more surprised to see some of the pictures I had taken in the next week’s edition of the paper. In that moment, I realized that my contributions to The Messenger were valuable not only to me as experience but to the paper as well.

I began to look forward to any opportunity to go out into the community. I acted as photographer for the Wheels on the Hill car show at Noccalula Falls, a Toys for Tots donation ceremony and the Gadsden Job Fair.

I also wrote about events such as First United Methodist Church’s Gifts to Gadsden and a retirement party for a woman who had worked for the city for 40 years. Writing these stories allowed me to get to know the people in the community and alerts me to events that I never knew were happening in my own hometown.

As much as I enjoy getting back to the office after events and writing the stories, my favorite task is photography. I enjoy attending an event and becoming an observer, and I try to get as many candid photographs as possible to show what the community is really like. I enjoy it because it is not something I was taught to do; capturing and editing my photographs is a completely creative experience for me, and at The Messenger I have an opportunity to teach myself a new skill through trial and error. Photoshop has been a challenge to learn, but I have used it to improve my own photos and to create images for the paper’s social media pages.

When I came to The Messenger, the paper had a basic Facebook page and an unused Twitter account. It is an ongoing process, but I am working to use our posts to engage our audience more regularly through the use of eye-catching images and headlines. My hope is that the social media pages can be used instead to find new readers who are younger and will be more drawn to our online presence (the website and various social media pages) than to the physical newspaper.

The contribution that I view with the most pride, however, was not an event but a person. The first interview I conducted was with Kay Moore, the director of Downtown Gadsden Incorporated (DGI). I had never interviewed anyone before, and I was more than a little nervous. What if I couldn’t think of anything to say? What if she only gave me monosyllabic answers to work with? What if she was offended that The Messenger had sent the intern? My fears were baseless in the end. Chris McCarthy, The Messenger’s publisher and editor, helped me come up with questions for the interview, and Moore herself could not have been more welcoming. She answered my questions and then some, showed me around the DGI office, and seemed interested in what a young person like me thought of the recent changes to downtown Gadsden. That one interview created a lasting professional relationship between us. It also built my confidence by forcing me to do something before I felt completely prepared to do it.

When I look back on the 10 weeks I spent as an intern at The Messenger, I feel pride. When I add a new article or photograph to my online portfolio, I feel like I’ve spent my first few post-graduation months well. I believe that each person should have jobs in multiple industries.

Diversification of skills and ideas will always be beneficial. I have learned to write and edit under deadlines in weeks rather than semesters, to conduct interviews rather than academic research, and to create visual companions to my writing through photography and photo editing.

These skills may not directly translate into my future career, but the thing that will is the most important skill I have learned at The Messenger:   the best way to learn something is to learn on the job.