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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-11-02

Intern Diaries: The Baltimore Sun
'I was thrown right into the mix from day one...'

By Patrick Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Photo by Patrick Smith / The Baltimore Sun

Photo by Patrick Smith / The Baltimore Sun

A competitor begins the 17.5 mi. bike following the swimming portion of the Iron Girl Triathlon at Centennial Park in Columbia.
(Editor's note: At the end of each summer, it has been a tradition at the Sports Shooter Newsletter to have several students share their experiences working at an internship.)

I've never been a lucky guy, and to say that I was this past year would be the complete opposite of what my year has been, but someone gave me some luck this summer, which turned out to be one of the best I've ever had only minutes from home at The Baltimore Sun.

My second to last semester of college was coming to an end as I sat at my desk at the Towson University independent student newspaper The Towerlight. As I gazed at my JR train pass for my return trip to Japan, I was energized. However, I felt discouraged knowing I would again be spending my summer freelancing and traveling rather than soaking up daily experience at an internship that I had always sought after and desired.

As I got ready to head out of the office for the weekend, I realized I had a message on my desk phone - it was from the assistant managing editor of photography at The Baltimore Sun asking that I call him back. I simply assumed he was looking for an image I had. But I was completely wrong. When I returned his call, I was asked if I wanted to come down and interview for a summer internship. My heart stopped.

Having lived thirty-minutes north of Baltimore my entire life, I grew up reading The Baltimore Sun, viewing the images everyday and idolizing the photographers. I always wanted to a part of that newspaper.

From day one I've been a self-taught photographer. I never went to a photojournalism college. I didn't have competitive photographer friends, friendly or not, other than myself, at school. I learned from viewing professional's images and trying to make "successful failures" on my own. So finally getting the opportunity to spend a summer with those I've always admired was absolutely a dream come true.

After getting the gig in April, I couldn't wait for my first day. There was no doubt I was anxious. Although I had been freelancing regularly for the "competition" paper in Baltimore, I still never had an internship anywhere before. While I felt I had the skills needed to take on an internship, and the ability to make compelling images, I had been shot down time and time again.

But I never gave up and continued to push myself harder to better my personal vision and skills. Nevertheless, I guess I got lucky; The Baltimore Sun knew of my work and decided to take a chance on me.

Fast forward to summer. Although the paper was accommodating to my prior engagement of traveling to Japan, I ended up becoming extremely ill and had to cancel my trip. So instead of being jetlagged on my first day, I was still feeling a bit weak. Lyme Disease is a terrible thing.

The moment I walked in the door for my first day, I felt a bead of sweat roll down my forehead. Here I was, I had made it. The catch was that I was 30 minutes early and scared to be untimely, yet extremely terrified to be late, so I requested the receptionist to call up at 10:00 a.m. when they were expecting me. She called fifteen minutes late, although I reminded her about five (read: 35) times to make the call.

Photo by Patrick Smith / The Baltimore Sun

Photo by Patrick Smith / The Baltimore Sun

U.S. Olympic Whitewater team member Benn Fraker of Charlotte, NC., flips back over after losing control of his kayak during a whitewater slalom practice run.
Now sweating profusely and chimping through a blank memory card for no apparent reason other than being edgy, I was greeted by one of the photo editors and walked upstairs through the newsroom that had generated numerous Pulitzer prizes and a plethora of other awards.

We made our way over to the photo assignments desk and I was introduced to some of the other photo editors and one photographer (who was doing the assigning at the moment). Blunt, he asked if I could find features and I said, "Sure." He responded, "Don't be arrogant, that shit won't fly!" Umm, did I mention I was already nervous?

Although I apologized sincerely for coming off that way, what I didn't know at the time was that everything Jed Kirschbaum said shouldn't be taken seriously, yet at the same time, should. He then responded, "Well, let's put the poor bastard to work anyways."

Here I stand, probably white as a sheet, doused in sweat and being put to work within minutes of starting my internship. What did I get myself into?

Contrary to what I was thinking, I wasn't being subjected to the veteran shadowing for weeks on end or sitting around filling out paper work all day. I was thrown right into the mix from day one.

Although I was petrified my first day, from that point on I felt like I was accepted into a family. Everyone genuinely cared and made me feel welcome each and everyday, of course, with some mutual banter.

As the summer progressed, I was loving every single moment. I was working hard, clocking long hours and getting dominant assignments. I wasn't getting "made up" work that only would get play online or made into the food review beat photographer.

I was fortunate to have editors who trusted me enough to let me shoot the same assignments that the staffers were working on.

That all started my second week when I was pushed by another photographer to try and cover the U.S. Kayak Team's last tune-up before Beijing. This was a dominant sports assignment and I wasn't expecting to get it. I was still fresh, finding my groove at the paper and scared to even ask for feedback at this point, let alone an assignment. But I took the risk and asked. I got it and landed my first front-page photo.

But everything wasn't glitter and gold and five column front-page photos.

Here I was striving to make a difference in the world of journalism, generate pictures with impact for the publication I've always dreamed of working for, hoping to make the front page of each section, all while those who have been in the business all their lives, seen it all, and had been making telling images that far exceed my own, struggling to hold onto what they love - their jobs.

With job cuts impacting the Tribune Company, I didn't know what to think. I felt sadness for them. Anger toward the state of journalism. Questioning myself if this was the right profession to get into.

Photo by Patrick Smith / The Baltimore Sun

Photo by Patrick Smith / The Baltimore Sun

University of Virginia Cedric Peerman (no.37) leaps over University of Maryland's Terrell Skinner (No.1) during the second quarter at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA., Saturday, Oct.4, 2008.
People need news and the public is expected to get it from a newspaper with a smaller manpower after layoffs and buyouts? I couldn't justify what was happening around me. While in the end 100 jobs were cut in the newsroom, and two in the photo department were saved, it was still something I didn't think I'd ever have to witness first-hand.

But this was a lesson within itself. I wasn't just getting a photo internship; I was getting a live, deeper look into this business. I also was learning how my fellow colleagues didn't allow this hardship to affect them as I watched them stay strong and still make front-page stunners.

Following Black Thursday, with a protest rallying against the demand to shrink the newsroom, I watched two extremely talented photojournalists take buyouts; one being a friend - David Hobby. Of anyone at The Baltimore Sun, I knew David the longest. I loved his MacGyver styled lighting work and he was always there to help a budding shooter. From the first time I met him on the sideline of a football game he wasn't afraid to give back to the photographic/photojournalism community, and that remains his priority and can be seen with his blog - Strobist. Conversely, here was a guy I looked up to, who was getting out of the business I so badly wanted to be apart of. I won't lie; I was torn and to a certain degree still am.

But as everyone at the paper did, we moved forward, with the exception that my time there was ending.

However, luck hit me again when I was asked if I wanted to stay eight-weeks more and extend my internship. I couldn't pass it up. I was having the time of my life.

Whether I was: chasing FBI agents in the rain trying to track down Clark Rockefeller, standing on a rock in the middle of a man-made river with a pole-remote shooting kayakers, waking up before the sun to shoot a triathlon, laughing hysterically in the middle of the forest on the opening of deer hunting season with a reporter, combing through revelers jamming to the Foo Fighters at the Virgin Festival, melting to the sidelines in the heat at Ravens training camp or game, assisting on a shoot of three barely-clad men, feeling the sadness of my subject after a death, documenting a blind mind struggle to find his way home, or exploring Delaware looking for Sen. Joseph Biden with another reporter; this is where I wanted to be. This is how I had always envisioned a daily workflow at a major metro daily.

Aside from the good and bad times, I was learning a hell of a lot. Whether I was seeing how bad Gene Sweeney Jr. kicked my butt at the Ravens game, how Monica Lopossay made me feel the emotion of the sad events she covered, how Chris Assaf made my multimedia piece feel meaningless in comparison to his, or how Karl Merton Ferron continued to pump out video after video. It was all utterly inspiring. I was even educating myself as I tried to teach others about my own knowledge and experiences.

Although I could name a laundry list of things I learned from everyone there, it's difficult to sum all of it in short form here in words. Everyone I got to work with taught me a distinct lesson at some point and helped better me throughout the summer. I learned endless things from those at The Baltimore Sun, whether they were my own editors, an editor of a different section, a reporter, or photographer. They each shared something with me, be it: a subtle simple lesson, a photo, a story (personal or written), an editing, shooting or reporting tip, or just plain good old fashion life advice. I feel privileged to have been given such great wisdom and work alongside such great people.

Photo by Chris Assaf / The Baltimore Sun

Photo by Chris Assaf / The Baltimore Sun

Photo of Patrick during the first week of his internship at The Baltimore Sun.
In addition, I learned from my own failures this summer and tried to better my shooting and vision by trying to produce work that was compelling and creative. I took risks, I tried new things, and I tried to break out of my comfort zone. And I should not forget to mention while having a lot of fun, too.

In short, I was fortunate to get great assignments, truthful feedback and have an inspiring, welcoming, talented staff to work with. I can only hope to find that in another internship or staff position after graduation.

Since my internship ended two weeks ago, I cannot say I don't miss it dearly. Photojournalism and working for a news outlet is definitely what I love.

Yet on the other hand, often I feel like I am getting into this business at the wrong time. Frequently I am told to steer clear of it by other photographer friends and those in the industry. But I am passionate about photojournalism. I love to work hard and it's not even a job to me; it's a way of life.

Every morning when I wake up and grab my cameras, I know I have the chance to help tell someone's story and will be willingly let into others lives all because I have a camera. That's worth getting out of bed; that's worth fighting for to me.

With all that said, I'll always remember my time at The Baltimore Sun and how the photographers stayed strong in the fight, how hard they all worked and the amazing images I looked at everyday. I'll take that and everything I learned with me as I fight to stay afloat in something I believe in and try and find a job in what some are calling a "dying industry."

Thanks to my editors (Bob Hamilton, Chuck Weiss, Jeff Bill, Jerry Jackson, Weyman Swagger, Glenn Fawcett, Danielle Bradley, and Denise Sanders) and ALL of the photographers (and reporters) at The Baltimore Sun for believing in me and pushing me to get storytelling images. Thanks for giving me this opportunity, and for making this one of the best summers of my life - I am lucky to have shared it with you all.

Related Links:
Patrick's member page

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