This month we welcome our new intern, Christy Klein, to the pages of Isthmus. Christy just completed her first year at UW-Madison in the journalism school’s master’s degree program, commonly referred to as the “pro-track.”
An education major as an undergrad, Christy worked as a teacher for about four years after graduation. She burned out quickly, though, and the pandemic pushed her to consider other options.
For her first Isthmus assignment, Christy spent a few hours at Tenney Park covering a quirky, family-friendly race around the lagoon. It’s the kind of story that relies on the skill of the storyteller since there is no inherent conflict or drama to speak of and Christy came through. Her story is this month’s Snapshot (page 6).
Isthmus has a long tradition of working with interns. In fact it’s one of the paper’s defining features. Former longtime news editor Bill Lueders ran the program for years, working with one or more interns per semester.
“I think having interns is one of the most important things Isthmus has done throughout the years,” he says. “It is training the next generation of journalists. We don’t have interns doing grunt work; we have them doing actual reporting, actual editing, actual journalism and they learn from it.
“You can’t get good at this job unless somebody gives you that opportunity,” he adds.
Isthmus’ dedication to training young journalists was tested in spring 2020. We learned March 3 that we were one of three member organizations of the Association of Alternative NewsMedia chosen to participate in the Google News Initiative Summer Fellows program. The fellowship is aimed at developing and supporting students of color who are interested in journalism careers; the fellows work in select newsrooms around the country and are paid a stipend directly by Google.
Two weeks after notification, the pandemic hit Madison, Isthmus paused print publication, and the staff was soon laid off. While a volunteer editorial staff was soldiering on, the timing to host an intern in the coming months was obviously problematic.
I was tempted to opt out, since I couldn’t fathom how we would be able to provide sufficient guidance and editing help. But in the end we decided the mission of the fellowship was too important and we also didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to offer more content to our readers.
Tamia Fowlkes, a junior at UW-Madison majoring in journalism and political science, came on as our Google News fellow in fall 2020. Fowlkes was passionate about education and politics and voting rights, and we tailored the fellowship to her interests — as we often do.
Fowlkes reported on the city’s effort to collect absentee ballots in Madison parks — now of course a hotly contested issue due to Republican opposition — efforts to get out the Black vote in Milwaukee and the recount. Fowlkes has been accepted into the master’s degree program at Columbia Journalism School for the fall.
In late March 2021, UW-Madison journalism student Ellie Nowakowski emailed, wondering if we had a summer internship. We were still not officially a nonprofit, no one was getting paid and we did not know when or if we’d be able to return to print. I shared with Nowakowski that I was concerned we would not have much time to work with her, but she was not deterred. Interested in entertainment writing, she started contributing to Isthmus Picks and has continued to do so beyond her internship. She also wrote about the return of beloved Sunroom Cafe to State Street and KLJ Movement, a dance studio in Monona focused on young dancers of color.
Over the years Isthmus interns have gone on to esteemed careers in journalism, including three who earned Pulitzer Awards: Abigail Goldman, Richard Winton and Anthony Shadid.
Our own Jason Joyce, Isthmus publisher, was an intern in 1993. And when Joyce helmed the digital media desk for Isthmus he ran his own robust internship program.
“When Isthmus ramped up its digital presence in the early 2000s, we were looking for more reporters to add to our daily coverage,” he recalls. “At the same time, college students were looking to experiment online and gather work examples, so it was a nice fit.
“Interns were called on to cover weeknight government meetings, demonstrations, weekend festivals, debates and countless other events. We used interns to produce a blog covering the first few Wisconsin Film Festivals, back when blogging was a new thing. And we urged them to bring their own ideas and ask lots of questions.”
Jessie Opoien, now the Capitol bureau chief at The Capital Times, was a digital intern in 2011.
Isthmus has also worked over the years with the Simpson Street Free Press. Because many of the students are in middle school or high school, these internships are a bit different. Usually the interns shadow Isthmus staffers, accompanying a reporter to a city council meeting, for instance, or helping out with proofing and fact-checking copy. But a few years ago, as controversy swirled around the disciplinary policy in Madison’s schools, I helped two interns write personal essays about their own experiences in the classroom.
In recent years a few interns have stood out. Nora Hertel, who received her master’s degree from the UW-Madison journalism school, stayed with us for more than a year, writing on everything from politics to ultimate frisbee. She went on to work as an investigative reporter at papers in Wisconsin and Minnesota. She’s now launching The Optimist, a media enterprise in Minnesota focused on rebuilding “trust in news” by featuring reporting on solutions to issues, not just problems.
Bennet Goldstein brought similar energy and creativity to Isthmus as an intern. He spent a weekend at an International Mr. Leather convention and wrote a compelling feature story about a subculture that I suspect many of our readers did not know about. He also wrote stories on development, education and police discipline.
He left Madison to work at a number of daily papers in Iowa, including the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska. And he’s now come full circle. Goldstein made it through an extremely competitive process to become one of 10 corps members with Report for America, a national journalism service program, and he will report on agriculture and water issues in this capacity for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
Goldstein took an atypical route to journalism. While pursuing a history degree in graduate school at UW-Madison he started to write for the arts section of the Badger Herald, mainly to make new friends. He discovered he really enjoyed writing.
He took a few journalism classes but found that employers — even at small rural papers — wanted candidates with more experience. He also found that most journalism internships were open only to full-time journalism students.
Fortunately, he says, he secured an internship at Isthmus (“by far, the most fun and rewarding journalism experience I’ve had”) and was able to beef up his portfolio.
To end as I began: “You can’t get good at this job unless somebody gives you that opportunity.”