(By Laura Kelly)
Last Thursday night I was talking to a 17-year-old American boy. The location was a trendy Tel Aviv bar but this story isn’t about underage drinking. Illegality aside, the boy was clearly enamored talking with me. To him Iwas a 25 year-old-woman with adventurous life experience. He asked me what I do in Israel. I smiled and said, “I’m a journalist.”
What I failed to mention is that I am actually an unpaid intern. Also, I paid a great deal of my own money to be on a program that found me the internship.
But when this young, impressionable, Diaspora Jew thought he had met someone who was shaping the world as seen through the news, how could I take away the glory he felt in his brush with greatness? I couldn’t, because I wanted to feel great.
I don’t work on the breaking news desk. I can’t read or understand Hebrew or Arabic. I’m not a regular contributor of articles. Responsibilities regulated to me are the repetitive and mundane tasks of changing PDF or word articles to internet format and changing the rotation of articles on different parts of the website. It requires a lot of “copy” and “paste.”
But working on these tasks, no matter how repetitive and mundane, are made exciting because everyday I’m being exposed to all the news in the Middle East. There is a difference between reading an article that a tunnel in New York City is being renamed as opposed to the many implications of the targeted killing of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, at least for me.
I think I would be bored doing an internship in any other place.
As an intern I have the opportunity to research and write stories on my own for publication. I wrote a review on an art gallery exhibit. The theme was artists’ frustrations of living in an unpredictable Middle East reality, unable to build a stable life. The next day war broke out. Talk about relevancy over cross genres.
By virtue of Israel’s small size, all issues are magnified and relevant across demographics. In world news, violent protests are raging in Cairo after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi claimed additional ruling powers. He is being called a new Pharaoh and just as bad as former dictator Hosni Mubarak. A story like this directly affects Israel. An unstable Egyptian government already threatens to exacerbate rising tensions in the Sinai Peninsula and undermine the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Back in New York I once worked at a TV tabloid news-magazine. One of our breaking news items was a dog that ran across a highway in Chile. We received over 200 phone calls and user comments the next day asking what happened to the dog. I think he made it to the other side safely.
I walked to work on November 21st around 12 pm. I heard the sirens and I saw the ambulances and police cars drive by. A part of me already knew it was too many to be a regular car accident. I walked into work and I stood in the breaking newsroom as the information came in. A bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv. Was it a terrorist attack? Yes. Suicide bomb? No. Terrorist still at large, police were in pursuit. We all stood and just watched and listened to the team take in the facts and relay it as the news. It can’t be understated to say we were counting on them to keep us informed.
Since I’ve started on this journey to becoming a journalist, I’ve saved pieces of advice that have become mantras for me. Someone once told me, “don’t forget to use your voice where it matters most, your peers.” Working in the news in the Middle East it’s easy to get wrapped up in the grand importance of all the breaking news and the people who report it. It’s easy to become intimidated and feel like my voice can’t add anything new. But then I remind myself that I can be relevant. I am a 25-year-old American, educated, upper-middle class, Caucasian woman. I have a voice too.
The second piece of advice I got was an off-handed comment. In the middle of a rally my editor was typing up an article in real time on her smartphone. She was getting prepared to send it off to the news desk for immediate publication. I made one of those general comments, “What did we do before smartphones?” She told me she used to carry her laptop around with her everywhere. The next day I brought my laptop to work.
Afterwards I went to an event to package boxes of goodies for soldiers and children in the South of Israel. Inspired by everyone at the event I took out my laptop and started writing. Just as the last box was being packed up and brought downstairs, I had written an article and sent it off to my editor. It may have not been used but I had accomplished something I’d never done before.
I wrote a news article in real time. I gathered quotes and put the mood and people into context. I didn’t walk home and ruminate on the event. I didn’t write down notes and leave it for the next day. I was a journalist and I reported news. A week later I got a second chance to try my hand at reporting news in real time. Writing about the Tel Aviv rally to spread awareness of violence towards women, I was rewarded with a breaking news ticker and the full article published online and in print.
I don’t know if there is an exact context when I can truly say, “I am a journalist.” Is it when I make money off of my articles? Is it when I am a paid employee of a news organization? Is it when I have a press badge? I’ve already decided that this is the best job in the world and the only thing I want to do. My official title may only be “intern,” but I believe I was born for this job. Technicalities and monetary compensation aside, I feel I am a journalist.
Laura Kelly is the Premium Zone intern at the Jerusalem Post.