Journalism Education at NBC

James at NBC4

By Dean’s Intern James Doubek at NBC4 – Washington

Many of the things I’ve learned in the past four months at are about practical skills. Journalism school is great for philosophical ideas about the meaning of journalism and learning about general principles, but actually doing the writing over and over and seeing things firsthand is incredibly important.

I’ve learned a lot about writing at NBC. Like knowing what the best facts are for the lead. Sometimes it’s not the most important fact of the story; it’s what will make people click. For example, there was a story about a murder. Nothing out of the ordinary, except the guy said he saw “demons.” You can bet the word “demons” was going in the headline in some way.

I’ve made mistakes, but learned from them. I wrote a story and included someone’s name who I was not supposed to include. I wrote someone was “fired” because the information I saw said he was “relieved of duty;” turns out they are not the same thing. Police and sheriff’s department are not the same thing either. But when you screw up in a big way (as every screw up in media is big, because potentially thousands of people can read what you wrote) you remember it even more and become extra careful to not make the same mistake twice. I realize that a lot of journalists make mistakes when they’re new; it’s better for me to make them as an intern than as an employee.

I got to see what happens in a breaking news situation. The newsroom got a hold of the picture of the University of Virginia student who was injured during his arrest by an Alcoholic Beverage Control officer. We didn’t have many details. One student group wrote on Twitter that he was beaten by police. But the digital team director had to make a call: whether to show the face of the officer or not. She decided to blur the officer’s face, because at the time we had no way to confirm the facts. She said: “We don’t know whether he’s helping him or hurting him.” That healthy skepticism in any situation, even when the facts seem clear, was important to see firsthand.

When a man shot a security guard at the Census Bureau, the assignment desk editor got word from one source that the guard had died. But before reporting it, he told the newsroom to wait. He confirmed it with a second source, and then a third before he was comfortable telling people to report it.

After four months in my internship, I can confidently say it was one of the most important elements of my journalism education. I learned more about writing at my internship, by actually doing it, than in any class. I was able to get immediate feedback from professional journalists. I believe journalism is something that can only be taught in a classroom to a certain extent. On-the-job experience teaches so much more and NBC was a great place to learn.