September 18, 2013 Edition

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Experiencing the unexpected

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

I've wanted to work at The Times Dispatch for a few years now but the timing has never been right. Between the economy, my tendency to procrastinate and the use of the excuse 'there's always next year,' each summer passed by and I remained working in childcare while the journalism education I was gaining at Arkansas State University through hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars went unused.

This year was different though. I'm now entering my last year at ASU and the excuse 'there's always next year' became unusable. So this year, John Bland, publisher at The TD, and I both made the push to get me the internship I had craved for so many years.

That's where the Arkansas Newspaper Foundation's Summer Internship Program comes in. The annual program coordinates four paid internships for students at Arkansas colleges and universities. Newspapers interested in employing these interns fill out an application and are chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis.

John knew about the program but wasn't sure about any of the deadlines when he decided to look it up earlier this year. This was the first instance of our timing being right for once. The Times Dispatch was the first newspaper to get an application in, and I promptly followed with one of my own when they became available. On The Times Dispatch's application, the preferred intern was listed as Megan Heyl, and on my own application, the preferred newspaper was listed as The Times Dispatch.

Everything was set and it was to be my first summer in many years that wasn't going to be spent with screaming kids running circles around me. I was going to be doing what I was trained to do, what I love to do. Needless to say, I was very excited.

When I started at The Times Dispatch, I wasn't sure what I was in for. I had several friends who had already worked for various papers, and I gained what little knowledge I could from them. None of them had been able to really prepare me for what I was walking into.

Within my first three days of working at The TD I conducted a two-hour interview with the principal, superintendent and curriculum coach at one of the local high schools. Had I expected this? No. But then again I still don't know what to expect any given day while working at the newspaper.

And that's what this summer has really taught me about the job. It taught me to never assume what any given day is going to be like. We've had days that looked like they were going to be easy and ended up being some of the longest days of my life. We had days when nothing looked like it was coming together, yet somehow we met every deadline. I've written stories that weren't expected to be much longer than a few paragraphs and ended up needing a whole page of the paper.

No, none of my friends were able to prepare me for that kind of chaos. I find myself flashing back to classes where my journalism professors warned us to always keep on our toes, that no two days are ever alike and you always have to be prepared with pencil, paper and an AP Stylebook in hand. Yet despite all those warnings, I entered this internship a na•ve, plucky reporter who didn't have enough sense to know that two-hour interviews aren't really that uncommon.

I've learned a lot in the past three months and have grown to love the chaos that comes with being a reporter. The staff at The Times Dispatch gave me a chance to prove myself. I've gotten to experience so many different aspects of the job, from reporting and photography to copy-editing and layout. All the while I was also building relationships with everyone at The TD and being able to say I genuinely enjoy going to work.

After completing my internship, John decided he'd like to keep me on staff part-time until I finish my degree in May. I am ecstatic to get to continue my work at The Times Dispatch and look forward to the next nine months as I take my final steps to earn my bachelor's in journalism. It has really been a blessing every day to come to work here, and I look forward to many more days of experiencing the unexpected.

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