Jul 13, 2012

The Intern Life: Office Softball

As an intern reporter in a D.C. newsroom, I never expected that my greatest fear would be when the guys from I.T. roam around. They want me to play on their softball team, and although I like baseball, I just don’t think that 9 a.m. on a hot Saturday morning with a bunch of people that I don’t even know sounds especially fun. But he is persistent. I just smile and nod and politely tell him that I don’t have a car. That ought to do the trick. But it doesn’t—he offers me a ride with another reporter who doesn’t seem especially thrilled to pick me up from a distant metro stop and then drive me to a dusty field somewhere in Bladensburg. So now I’ve taken to hiding behind my computer. Good thing Apple makes large monitors.

Life as an intern is delightfully absurd, just like I imagine an office softball game would be.

Sometimes I feel like the right fielder, who wears an obvious patch in the ground after an hour because there just aren’t many left-handed batters hitting the ball to you. For most of the game, he has to shuffle his feet in order to keep his mind in the game. Sure, my editors are switch-hitters; but they usually bat from the right side. There aren’t many stories coming my way. 

So I spend hours reading the AP wire feed. I have discovered that even the online newspapers that appear to be free actually aren’t. I read the Wall Street Journal until it tells me I’ve read the maximum number of free articles for the month, and then I move to the New York Times and look at the photographs of the day. The Baltimore Sun lets you read 30 articles in a month, which I discovered in one day after I read 30 articles about the Orioles. Oops. Sometimes a ball is hit to me, and I write a quick brief about a robbery or the upcoming weekend concert. It’s a pretty inconsequential fly out, but every team needs a right-fielder who can catch the ball cleanly and refresh his Twitter feed often.

Sometimes I feel like the second baseman. He is always in the line of fire. Large men are running towards him with spikes on their shoes and every intent to arrive at second base without being stopped by anything that would mean an out. I think I know how he feels when I have to go out into the city to “shag quotes” from the public. 

It’s frightening to get to the top of the Metro escalator in Judiciary Square, only to discover that no one looks like they are going to want to talk to you. Heels look like cleats, and my mini reporter’s notebook probably won’t be as effective at stopping people as a large baseball glove would be. No one wants to be interrupted, let alone bothered by a little intern that just needs a few quotes for her editor. As far as I can tell, they are all barreling towards second base and I will probably be hurt before I can stop one who not only will give me a quote, but is willing to tell me their name and their age. Every once in a while, the baserunner is slow or didn’t get a good jump—I look for those people. Tag, they’re out. Usually the best people to try to stop are older men who could be my grandfather that seem to feel bad for me, or the cute twenty-something young professional who probably wouldn’t mind talking to a blonde for just a few seconds. Who cares what newspaper she writes for.

And then some days, I feel like the catcher when his pitcher is having a horrible night. Being a catcher can be like pulling teeth, I think. Or it can be like calling the Public Information Office at the D.C. Police. The first pitch in the first inning is a perfect fastball right over home plate—a tweet saying someone was stabbed. But then, all the pitcher can do is throw the worst curveballs, and maybe a changeup or two. That’s what it’s like when you actually call the police to get a little information. It’s like coaxing another fastball out of the pitcher, but realizing that for some reason he just can’t produce even one more. 

The Public Information Officer is silent after I tell her why I’m calling. She won’t tell me anything unless I ask very specific questions. Was that sign not clear enough? Ball one. Then she tells me the stabbing happened somewhere on maybe U Street. Or wait, maybe it was 17th. Really? You don’t even know where it happened? Ball two. Can you just tell me if someone was injured? Five minutes later, the changeup comes across the plate—low and outside. They think the victim is still in the hospital. Who knows when there will be a status update. Ball three. I ask another question, and the only response is a flustered “Didn’t you read the press release?” No, ma’am, there was no press release on your website. She’ll send it to me. It will tell me nothing, but at least I will get an email. Ball four—but maybe this time it was a bit closer to the strike zone.

Now I’m the right fielder again, catching a fly ball. I read the email, write the brief, and go back to shuffling my feet. Too bad The New Yorker isn’t free to read online.


Alan Barrington said...

Shannon, I absolutely LOVE your internship story. As a baseball fan, your comparisons between playing defense and your experiences in the office enable me to know EXACTLY what you are talking about. You are a truly gifted writer - I'm expecting great things from you in the future!

Anonymous said...

You are a gifted writer and I am so glad I could catch a glimpse of your summer in D.C. Keep aiming high and there is no way that you will strike out! I can not wait to hear more!

Morgan said...

Sounds a lot like my internship, at least the right fielder part.

Leslie said...

Hi Shannon. Brilliant piece. Have you sent this to your editor? This would be so great for your paper to print! Just my opinion, but it's a great, amusing read. xoxo