In Praise of Young Guns  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns
From AJR,   June 1997

In Praise of Young Guns   

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


"Young wings can fly, higher than you know."
--Ruby and the Romantics



It was about 5:45 on a Friday afternoon when Carrie the Intern called. It was her day off, but she had been at AJR most of the day, doing some last-minute fact-checking, chasing the late-breaking headshot, polishing her Free Press piece.

Someone asked Shannon the Intern what was up with Carrie, who had left the office maybe 45 minutes before. "She just wanted to make sure everything was OK," Shannon replied.

About a month before, we were nearing deadline and shorthanded. I placed an emergency call to Sinéad the Former and Future Intern to see if she could bail us out. She sounded stricken as she told me that if it were any other day, she would be here in two seconds. It was just that she was leaving for Ireland in an hour. Obviously someone named Sinéad O'Brien isn't going to postpone a trip to Ireland, even for AJR, but there was no mistaking her disappointment that she couldn't answer the bell.

No surprise. That's the way she plays the game. It got me to thinking about the time she was working on a Free Press piece about the tabloid Star and Dick Morris. The guy who wrote the piece wouldn't return her calls, and it was getting close to the drop-dead deadline.

A couple of editors suggested, quite sensibly, that we bag the piece and run something else. Sinéad wouldn't hear of it. So everyone else went home, and Sinéad and I figured out another approach. By the next afternoon she had completed a first-rate story.

But that wasn't the best part. Even better was how determined she was to do the piece, and how much fun she had doing it.

So spare me the whining over all those Generation X slackers and the notion that young people are a lazy bunch with no work ethic. I know it's an older person's job to view the younger generation with utter dismay. (Even my father, a nearly perfect person, but a big band guy appalled by rock 'n' roll, once told me that in six months no one would remember Elvis Presley. To his credit, he loved to tell the story on himself.) But in the five-and-a-half years I've been editing AJR, I've been constantly delighted by the total commitment and world-class work ethic of many of our interns, all of them students at the University of Maryland College of Journalism.

It's not surprising that they're talented, since they are among the best students at one of the nation's best J-schools. And given their age, it's to be expected that they rank high in energy, vitality, irony, cool music taste and the number of times they've seen "Pulp Fiction."

But what's so impressive to me is how hard they work, how much responsibility they take, how committed they are. And not just to stories that carry their byline--that's a small part of the gig. They do the vitally important fact-checking, tracking down pictures, proofreading, helping with the phones and faxing. And many of them wouldn't dream of leaving until everything is done.

All of which is good news not only for the future of Western Civilization but also, and more important, for the future of journalism. While I applaud those family-friendly policies at some newspapers that Chris Harvey writes about (see "Family Values"), there's no doubt that journalism often requires periods of intense dedication and long hours if it is to be done right. The spirit of these interns suggests that that tradition is alive and well.

The interns also serve another, more melancholy role. They remind us of the ephemeral nature of life. Because, after they've become key members of the family, they move on. "Don't leave, Shannon," I heard someone wail plaintively the other day. But they always leave. This summer Shannon Robertson will start her first job as a copy editor at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in Texas. And Carrie Melago will be off to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle as a Dow Jones editing intern. (Carrie, if you're reading this: Make sure you come back in the fall.)

But the good thing is some remain part of the family even after they go. Kelly Heyboer, reporting for Newark's Star-Ledger, writes frequently for Free Press. Debra Durocher, now assistant managing editor at The New Republic, also writes for AJR and proofreads every issue.

And then there's La Suz.

Suzan Revah was my first star intern. After three semesters, she became known as our Intern for Life. But she graduated and broke our hearts, going to work as an editor at The New Republic. But there are happy endings in life: As soon as we had an opening, we hired her as an associate editor.

One other thing: When she had the temerity to take a long weekend in Dallas not long ago, Suz made sure we e-mailed her a couple of Free Press pieces to work on.

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