It's time to ramble on…

The thoughts of a young journalist in southeastern Michigan

One month-plus post-graduation: Update in the “real world” of Grand Rapids

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Just more than one month ago, I sat in Kelly/Shorts Stadium wearing my black cap and gown and graduated from Central Michigan University.

It doesn’t feel like it. It actually feels longer than that.

In the time since I left Mount Pleasant, I’ve gone back to move out, officiated some soccer and began working full-time at The Grand Rapids Press. The last point, obviously, is where most of my time has been spent. I started three weeks ago, and the Press is my first full-time internship. It has taken some getting used to, having a set schedule, but I’m adjusting as well as possible.

I began working on the politics desk, and for the most part, have stuff with items in that area. My first assignment was a coverage of Michigan gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder’s town hall meeting at Rosa Parks Circle. Quite the first assignment, and daunting to someone who hasn’t worked for a publication with more than a 13,000 circulation (the Press is more than 100,000 circulation). But I used it as a launching pad and have written some interesting pieces.

One thing I’ve definitely noticed is different than the college newsroom: everyone is older. I realize I’m stating the obvious, but when you’re used to working with 20-year-olds, working with full-fledged adults was still a culture shock for me. The priorities for adults are significantly different than what I was used to as a college student, but the benefit you get is you see how they do their jobs and how they handle news and writing, and it’s that experience I can (and have) watched to gather my own way of reporting.

But the best way of evaluating my new is to go through it, bit-by-bit. So here it is:

The toughest adjustment: It has to be clocking 40 hours a week on a regular time schedule. While there were weeks at CM Life I spend more than 40 hours a week in the office, that was on a be-there-as-you-need-to-be basis. Even as editor, the only requirement I had was to be in at 11 a.m. Now, it’s usually an 11 a.m.-7 p.m. shift, five days a week. I know it doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal to me, but it has been.

The biggest similarity: It’s got to be the hunger for information. I see no difference in the drive to gather and disseminate information to the public from newsroom to newsroom. Earlier this week, one reporter exposed a plan one legislator’s aide had to open a film production studio just to make a profit off of Michigan’s 42 percent film tax incentive program. The drive to expose wrongdoing is still there, a plus when there’s a lot of talk of doom-and-gloom in college of the journalism industry.

The press pass I was issued when I arrived at the airport to cover President Barack Obama's landing.

The most exciting story I’ve written: Without a doubt it has to be my feature on the Comstock Park couple that got to tour Air Force One when it flew into Grand Rapids for President Barack Obama’s speech at Kalamazoo Central High School. While the story I wrote was just a discovery, the whole experience of going to the airport to see the president was exciting to me. Even getting screened by the Secret Service was fascinating, because I got to see the process of protecting the president first hand. As a politics junkie, I found the entire process incredible. Even watching the Kent County Sheriff’s deputies climb the roof at Gerald R. Ford International Airport provided a glimpse at the measures taken to secure the president.

The story I’m most proud of: Without a doubt it’s my piece on a Kenyan refugee flying into Grand Rapids after waiting for his visa for 10 years. Joseph Sewe, who was stuck in a refugee camp in Tanzania, was left behind in Africa when the rest of his family was granted visas to the U.S. He and his brother, Alvin, were left behind. Alvin died in 2006, and Joseph was granted his visa in May. I spoke to his aunt, Dorothy, who has quite the story herself. She was more than happy to share her story of trying to get Joseph reunited with her and her family, and her comfort in sharing her story made it so much better. After going to the airport twice (he had missed a connecting flight and Dorothy didn’t know), last Thursday, I watched as his family walked out of the gate and was rushed by Dorothy and her children. I have never seen hugs so tight at an airport before, it was incredible to share in such a huge family moment with them and tell the world about it. Stories like that remind me that I picked a good industry to go into.

Overall, so far it’s been a good experience. I’m seeing a lot and just learning how this whole thing works. In other words, three weeks down, the rest of my life to go.

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Written by David Veselenak

June 18, 2010 at 10:00 pm

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