"It made me want to work even harder to achieve my dreams. And for that, I am grateful."

Name: Sean Varner
Program of Study: Communications
Internship: The Baltimore Sun
Location: Baltimore, MD

Briefly describe your internship and your responsibilities as an intern.

Well, my internship was with The Sun--the one in Baltimore. Not the one that's just a big ball of fire in the sky. That'd be silly. I worked in the features department, so I had my hand in a lot of different cookie jars, so to speak. I got to work with a lot of different editors and dabbled in all the sections-music, food, movies, television, gardening, etc. I was responsible mainly for working on stuff related the The Sun's website, like entering Baltimore events into a searchable database (called FindLocal), keeping the social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter updated, and creating photo galleries. But along with those sorts of standard things, I did get a few writing opportunities. Most of them came in the form of "Day Trip" articles for the travel section of the print edition, but I did get the opportunity to review a restaurant, as well. Well, review the new patio of a restaurant. Doesn't really matter: all's that is important is that I got a free meal.

How did you find your internship?
I went looking for it. The Communications major requires that an internship be completed. Knowing I would have to do it eventually, I thought it would be quite nice if I could get one around the Baltimore area. So I started using Google to figure out what opportunities existed. I was on the staff of The Quindecim during my sophomore year, and was set to be the editor of the features department this year. I wondered if the Baltimore Sun had anything, so I googled it, and lo and behold. What is more, it was with the features department, so it was a perfect fit.

What resources did you find particularly helpful in your internship search?.
The Sun's website and Google. And Dr. Zurawik-one of the Communications professors. He was an immense help after I had discovered the opportunity. He gave me some details on what the internship would entail, which was a big help in deciding to do it, and put in a good word for me in the newsroom.

Why did you choose your internship? What factored into your search and applying?
Well, like I said, I knew that I'd be features editor on The Qunidecim this year, I knew that Communications majors were required to complete an internship requirement, I knew that The Sun was offering an internship in the features department, and I knew that if I went home for the summer, I'd just be sitting around all the time. It all fit together perfectly, so I went with it.

What were you most apprehensive about going into your internship?
I most feared that I might not be cut out for it. The last thing I wanted to do was mistakenly hit a few buttons and cause the city's biggest newspaper to explode, or something. Also, I wasn't sure how tasting a "9 to 5" work environment for the first time would be, seeing as how I had not ever experienced anything of the sort. Truth be told, I was also a bit fearful of letting down Dr. Zurawik, who had been of great assistance and put a good deal of faith in me.

What did you hope to gain from your internship experience?
More than anything, a sense of whether or not I wanted to work at a newspaper. You know, you grow up being on the staff of your high school and/or college newspapers, but you never quite know what it'll be like until you're sitting behind a desk in an actual newsroom where things are being written on deadline that millions of people will be reading. I wanted to taste it. I wanted to figure out if I'd be happy with that as my career path.

How did your internship experience influence your academic and career interests/goals/plans?
It reinforced my love of writing, and it made me realize that I would rather write fiction than do anything else with my life. Journalism would be a fine career choice, but I really and truly want to tell stories and be a novelist. Do not mistake me: all the people I worked with were wonderful, as was the entirety of the internship. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. But it made me realize that I don't want to work at a newspaper. I mean, I will work at a newspaper in order that I may pay the bills. But ultimately, I want to be a novelist. Every day I went into the internship, I thought, Now this would be an alright job. But then when I got home from work, I'd write stories. And it doesn't even compare. It made me want to work even harder to achieve my dreams. And for that, I am grateful.

What were the most challenging aspects of your internship?
Hectic days, surely. Some days the reporters are wringing the world for all its worth in news, while other days are just leaking buckets of unclog-able news. I mean, not that I had anywhere near as much to deal with as the actual reporters who were rushing around the newsroom, but it all trickles down. The people at the top get busy and assign the lower priority stuff to those below them, and on and on in goes until it reaches the interns. Sooner or later, you've got three or four people asking you to do stuff for them before a certain time and you haven't even checked your email yet.

What were most rewarding aspects of your internship?
Above all, it reinforced the notion of what I truly want to do with my life. Self-reliance was a big theme, too, this summer. I lived on my own, cooked my own meals, and played the morning and evening commute game. It gave me a taste of what life after college would look like. Focusing my writing was another big thing. I was tasked with writing short descriptions of area events, and you only have so much space for it. Going into the internship, I imagined that that aspect would be the least helpful: I didn't think writing 100 word descriptions of events would help me in the long run, but it has. Because it forces the writer to pick and choose and be careful with words. It makes the writer say in a single word what would have been said in three words. It helps you learn what you need, and what you can cut.

Any funny/ embarrassing things happen during your internship?
A few things here and there, but nothing that would have someone holding their abs and begging for me to stop telling the story, lest they laugh so hard that they stop breathing or bust an artery. Mostly, it was my unfaltering knack of getting lost in the parking garage every single day that I went to work. I'd either always take the wrong set of stairs or walk in the wrong direction or walk straight past my car without seeing it. For the first few weeks, I was often also known to pass up my cubicle entirely, and walk straight into one belonging to someone else, much to their bewilderment.

How do you feel your internship prepared you for the real world?
Like I said, I got a good glimpse into what the work would is like. I know now what to expect. I also know that cooking isn't that difficult. You can literally just put the chicken in the oven, walk away for an hour, and come back to a perfectly edible meal. I'm not sure why people whine about how much they hate cooking. Working for The Sun also prepared me in the sense that I now know people who work there. I know the editors and reporters and even other interns. (Actually, they took all the interns to an Orioles game and gave us a catered sky-box.)

What advice would you give to students to help them make the most of their internship experience?

Take the opportunities that are given to you. I worked an 11am-5pm shift at The Sun, but I would get calls every once in a while asking me if I would cover an event not scheduled to happen during my normal work hour. I took all of them, because I knew that with each of those opportunities came more experience and knowledge.

How do you utilize the skills you developed in your internship experience in your job now?
I feel like my writing is more focused, as I've said, and I've seen what actual editors are like at an actual newspaper, so I feel like I've gotten a better grasp on how to be an editor here on The Quindecim.

Sean Varner

  • The Baltimore Sun