Learning the Ropes at the Washington Post


Hoai-Tran Bui at her desk mid-note taking.

Dean’s Intern Hoai Tran Bui at The Washington Post

Sink or swim.

That’s what it’s like to be a Dean’s Intern at The Washington Post. It’s thrilling, terrifying and satisfying all at the same time—a roller coaster of emotions I never thought I would experience at a 9 to 5 job.

Unlike many of my previous internships, the Post requires interns to be at the same level of competence as any of their entry-level reporters. There are no “easy” stories or “intern jobs” that we get assigned. It’s be a great reporter, or don’t. Sink or swim.

I chose swim.

To be honest, I floundered a bit for the first few weeks on the job. I bounced from section to section, grasping for stories and waiting for work. I got my fair share of bylines writing obituaries and chasing down crime stories, which helped me grow my confidence as a reporter. But I didn’t feel like I was living up to my title as Dean’s Intern.

I was looking at my fellow Dean’s Interns, who were getting 8-inch stories in the print paper, or getting their bylines on A1 of their newspapers. I could feel my insecurities piling up on each week.

But then I realized it wasn’t about the number of stories you got printed or whether you got a byline or not. It was about whether I felt like I had accomplished something meaningful.

A few weeks ago I came into the office as usual, and started working on a first-person piece about religion that one of my editors had assigned me. It was an evergreen piece that I had been working for a couple weeks about coming from a family practicing two religions, and I was going to send it in that day.

About an hour in, I was approached by the crime editor to help a reporter with a story about a Howard County gang indictment. As the eager intern, I accepted right away, although I wasn’t finished with my religion story yet. Not even two hours later, another Local editor asked me if I could go out to a neighborhood that had seen a series of mysterious tree carvings. I said yes again.

With three stories to work on and about half of my day already gone, I panicked. But I found myself finishing my religion piece in about half an hour, finishing the research on the gang indictment soon after and heading in a taxi to that Northeast neighborhood. When I came back to the office and handed in my notes and pictures, I was exhausted but incredibly content. I had a good day.

My days at the Post are littered with good days and bad days, but thankfully the good ones outweigh the bad. At no other internships would I get a day as thrilling, anxiety-inducing and fulfilling as a good day at the Post.