Capitalizing on a New Experience


Caitlin Friess, who is working on a Newseum film project, said her perception of interns has changed because of her experience.

Dean’s Intern Caitlin Friess at Newseum.

A few years ago, I never would have thought that government affairs and the inner political workings of intelligence agencies would have been a subject I’d be even slightly conversant on. Or that I would be at the front of the curve on awareness of digital preservation efforts. Of course, a few years ago I never would have thought I’d spend a semester working in the Newseum’s broadcast department.

I wasn’t certain, going into this experience, of precisely what a research associate did. The application had given me enough of an indication to be interested of course, but the top two questions on my mind were what format will this take? And what will the end product be?

Though I have covered other special projects over the course of the semester, the one that stuck with me the most out of this internship has been my research for a potential film series the Newseum wanted to created called “Secrets, Spies & Bylines.” At the time of my writing this nothing has been finalized in the creation process – though this could change any day – but I feel like this one semester has given me a great in-depth look at the amount of work that goes into a production like this to even get it ready for a pitch.

The series focuses on the relationship between reporters, whistleblowers, and the government. Our main storyline is the 2005 exposure of the NSA’s warrant-less wiretapping programs by the New York Times, though others I’ve conducted research on have included the Valerie Plame affair and Project Azorian. Simply saying I conducted research doesn’t quite capture the experience.

For example, while I knew what the Patriot Act and the Espionage Act were, I was not as familiar with their applications as I am now. I also had the chance to get up close and personal with declassified CIA documents, court documents, and legal testimonies. None of these fell under a writing style with which I was familiar, and they each offered a unique opportunity to associate myself with the basics of analyzing legal writing. The redacted text of one CIA document was the source of some amusement for a colleague and I, who decided we should send it around the office as Mad Libs: CIA Edition. (We never did, but the idea was funny enough to get us through a slow part of the day). Things like this only scrape the surface of what I covered, and what I learned.

Work aside, my time in the office was a new experience too. For one thing, there was the environment. My past work experience has been either in smaller, considerably more basic offices, or hasn’t had an office to be based in at all. Here I got to see production suites and studios as I walked in – not to mention getting to walk through the Newseum itself most mornings! I was also happy to find that my coworkers were friendly and welcoming – many of them shared similar taste in media, and it was always fun to chat with people when I got the chance. I call this a new experience largely because the traditional office model, in my previous experience, states that I am the intern and everyone else is busy doing important work. I am therefore not to bother them. While this pattern started to break when I came to AU, it was during this semester that it seemed the most obvious to me.

It was also great to have another intern from the Dean’s program in the office. It meant that there was someone else whose life was as crazy busy as mine, someone to chat to when the academic workload got frustrating, or just someone to have lunch with every once in awhile. It became like a mantra for us: school might be busy, but here we could just sit at our desks, take a deep breath and immerse ourselves in the Newseum.

This has definitely been a new and exciting experience for me, and one that I plan on capitalizing on as my academic career draws closer to its end. (I’ve already used some of my new awareness of digital media to springboard another research project for a class, so we will have to see what comes next). I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.