Sink or Swim: Data journalism in the deep end

On my very first day, minutes after I had set up my work e-mail, I received an assignment from one of the top editors of the magazine I work for. This editor wanted me to come up with a list of salaries from the Portland metropolitan area, and also wanted me to come up with original, reliable sources for the data – no second-hand information allowed. Other than that, the assignment was basically open-ended. It was up to me to use my best judgment in deciding which salaries to choose to research, and it was entirely up to me to figure out my sources.

I’ve spent years as an editor and reporter for various collegiate publications. I’ve personally delved deeply into sensitive issues, and I’ve assigned reporters to do the same. By all rights, I should have had no reservations about doing something like this.

But you know what? I was actually pretty nervous.

After all, having one of the leaders of a prestigious publication personally hand me a research-intensive assignment on my first day wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Plus, this was something that was going into the magazine, with my name on it, and was going to be viewed (and scrutinized) by people throughout the entire Portland metropolitan area and beyond. While working for outlets like Ethos or the Emerald, my work would be seen by maybe a third of the UO campus, or half of it if I was really lucky. But this piece? This piece, when it publishes, will be seen by 50,000+ people. And if something in my reporting is wrong, then the very good reputation of my publication will noticeably suffer.

Despite all my previous experience, this was a whole different ballgame.

But I am also immensely glad that I was assigned this story. I buckled down and spent hours sifting through governmental databases, NPO IRS forms, and corporate budget reports. I checked in regularly with my direct editor, and stayed on track. Now, I can take on anything else this internship throws at me. I was thrown in, and I was forced to swim.

Keegan Clements-Housser

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6 Responses to Sink or Swim: Data journalism in the deep end

  1. I agree that the pressure suddenly becomes heightened after leaving the collegiate world and entering the real world, especially as an intern. We want to uphold the company we work for to the highest standard, which means making zero mistakes. We want to be perfect, we strive to be perfect. But this can sometimes be a downfall because we begin to second guess ourselves. We have to remember to do our best and trust ourselves and our education, which is what you seemed to do!

  2. madelinestone says:

    I have felt the same pressure you are describing. Up until now I have always thought that my education and previous experiences had prepared me to be a good journalist, but what you can’t learn from a class is pressure, pressure to up hold a reputation especially when it is paying your bills. The pressure of the work environment is real and it is stressful, for now. I believe that as we continue to experience those high pressure situations we will continue to learn how to handle them better and better. We might feel like we are being thrown into the deep end of the pool but pretty soon we are going to be jumping in and floating right along.

  3. Good insight, I’ve for sure felt that way during my internship here. But you’re right about just swimming. We have to remember the things we’ve learned so far and do them the best that we can. It’s easy to be intimidated by bigger publications and we do need to step up our game, but we also can confidently do the things we know how to do!

  4. pcriscola says:

    I agree, its a nerve racking transition from college to the real world! Nothing can prepare us enough for our first publication or project to actually go public for a wider audience. But it’s great experience you are getting and there is room for growth and improvement and the company you are working with knows that! But it sounds like you had a successful first project which is awesome! Your supervisor and everyone you work with has been in your shoes at some point or another and they understand what its like to work on your first assignment.

  5. pdxsx says:

    I hope you rocked it, dude!

  6. Great post! Big assignments can definitely be scary, but sometimes we can really surprise ourselves with how well we can do. Sounds like you did what you needed to do and made yourself proud, which is great!

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