My internship is over and it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learned this summer. While I learned a lot between the copy and digital desks, I wanted to share some thoughts from my time on NewsOK.com. Here are five lessons I’ve learned from working on NewsOK.com that apply to both the website and life.
5. When it rains, it pours
Some days on the digital desk would be a breeze. I’d come in, moderate some comments, post some wire stories, change some widgets and it’d be nice and calm for the day.
And then other days would be a little tricky. Sometimes there’d be two breaking news items at the same time and you’d have to send two breaking news alerts and place the stories at the top of the website at the same time. Sometimes you’d get a bunch of wire content or comments that need to be moderated all at once, and you have to do it as quickly as you can. Sometimes AP would be extremely late at posting an important story like the Jerry Sandusky verdict and you have to improvise. Sometimes you’d have meetings to go to during all of this. Sometimes these things would all go wrong at the same time and you’d want to “rip your hair out and set it on fire,” as I often say (my high school yearbook advisor taught me that one).
Don’t rip your hair out and set it on fire, as I have never actually done. When it rains, it pours. Take a deep breath and power through it. As long as you are alive and the website works, it is OK.
4. Trial and error is the best learning process
They always say you’ll never know until you try. So when it comes to life and working on to the website, think of new ideas and just go for it. Just make sure you have a good, quick backup plan lined up in case something goes wrong (or if you’re working on the website, always keep the regions admin open).
3. Even intelligent people curse
Moderating comments on the website sounds like it’d be boring, but it was one of my favorite parts because it’s how I got to know our readers. Some people leave novels and others leave very short responses. Some people stay on topic and others will find any excuse to talk about whatever issue they really care about (spoiler alert: it’s usually health care, Oklahoma football or anything political). A few of the commenters are digital frenemies. They continue conversations across multiple articles and hold grudges like nobody’s business. They were my favorites.
But a good chunk of people curse, including the intelligent people with good arguments. Nothing breaks my heart more than having to delete a good, thoughtful comment just because someone ends it by calling someone else a name or curses. Even intelligent people curse, but sometimes we have to delete their comments, too.
2. Adding Bill Hader makes anything better
When I was running the site on my first Saturday, I was thinking of some creative ways to get people excited about the NBA Playoffs. We typically post one story an hour to Facebook and everything else automatically tweets. But I noticed that our Saturday social media traffic was pretty slow compared to the other days of the week, so I decided to switch it up.
I went through one of our reader-submitted photo galleries of how people Thunder Up. I found a picture of Bill Hader, who is a Tulsa native and is one of the best “Saturday Night Live” cast members of all time (in my opinion, of course.) So I posted the picture of Bill Hader to Facebook and Twitter and asked people how they were Thundering Up for the NBA Finals, and reminded them that they could still submit photos to our gallery. The photo got a bunch of likes on Facebook, and we got plenty of retweets and replies on Twitter. We also got more than 20 photo submissions before I left that morning, which is really good for a Saturday. People loved seeing a celebrity Thunder Up, and I loved having the extra photos to add to the gallery. When in doubt, add Bill Hader.
1. Trying to figure out what went wrong isn’t nearly as important as fixing it
In life and online, things will always go wrong. Code will break, stories will go missing, and widgets will magically double. Sometimes it takes you five seconds to know what went wrong, and sometimes it takes you an hour. Sometimes it’ll take even longer. While finding out what went wrong is important, it isn’t nearly as important as fixing it. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to find out what went wrong, because you definitely should. But you can’t exactly leave a broken widget on the homepage for an hour waiting for an answer from someone else. Sometimes you need to improvise and come up with a Plan B and deal with the detective work later. As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work.”
When The Oklahoman’s internship coordinator, Joe Hight, called me for an interview in December, I was incredibly nervous. I don’t remember most of the things we talked about, but he asked me one question that I’ll never forget.
“So, why are you interested in coming to Oklahoma?”
I do remember having a moment of panic because it was the first question I didn’t know how to answer. I knew why I liked The Oklahoman and NewsOK, but not necessarily why I liked the area. Somehow I fumbled through it and he liked me enough anyway to give me the spot, and I gladly accepted within the hour.
After I accepted the internship, many of my friends and relatives asked me similar questions. ”So, you’re leaving the East Coast, huh? Why? What’s so great about Oklahoma?”
Ever since I got here I can’t stop hearing it, either. ”Why Oklahoma?” “What made you come here?”
Many people are just curious, but some of them say it like I’m crazy. What made me come here, like it was some terrible thing for me to leave Virginia and move out west.
So, why Oklahoma?
I was initially drawn to The Oklahoman and NewsOK because of Adam Kemp, a two-time intern who now works on the Metro desk. We attended the Poynter College Fellowship together last summer and spent many, many hours together working on a big project. We kept in touch and he had such a good experience that I figured I might as well apply.
But I’m glad to say that Adam isn’t the only cool part about Oklahoma City. I’ve watched every Thunder game with my roommates/fellow interns, gone to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, explored the Oklahoma City Zoo, walked around Bricktown, saw the Paul Simon documentary “Under African Skies” at the deadCENTER Film Festival, and even met James Marsden. There is always something fun to do, and there is much more to explore.
But more than that, this city is so welcoming and everyone feels so unified. Part of that might be because the Thunder is doing so well, but this feels like a place where you will always be accepted and welcomed with open arms. And since I came from almost 1,500 miles away, I really needed that.
As I’ve researched the city and gotten to know it a little bit better, I am so glad I came. I’ve only been here for a little over two weeks and I’m strangely attached to this city already. I can’t quite put it into words, but from day one it felt like home. I will always love Virginia, but I’m not homesick because there’s no need to be; I already feel at home.
Some of that might just be my optimism, because I came fully prepared to fall in love with this city. Before me and my roommate/fellow intern Olivia Ingle try anything new here, one of us always says, “No matter what happens, it’ll be an adventure.” But I think that most of it is just because Oklahoma City is a great place to live and explore, especially if you’re willing to try new things.
The thought of having to leave this place in August breaks my heart, but I’m not going to think about that for the time being. For now I’m just going to have fun, work hard and keep exploring this great city I now call home.