By Adam Beyer
Imagine you have to call, email and tweet strangers in Norway in an attempt to schedule an interview for a news story on an urgent deadline. It is a Friday afternoon, and when you finally reach one woman, she tells you that she is in a cab headed to a party, and promptly hangs up. You have nothing. This happened to Susannah Roberson PPS’16 during her internship this summer.
Journalism can be tough, but for Roberson, it was a rewarding summer internship experience. After taking an audio documentary class with John Biewen at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies during her junior year, she knew she wanted to be involved in radio and she wanted to be in Boston.
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Roberson on the Radio
Susannah Roberson, PPS'16, spent her summer interning for WGBH in Boston, Mass. She worked for two radio programs, The World and Frontline.
She managed to accomplish both goals this summer as a production intern with WGBH, a Boston-based public radio station that produces several nationally syndicated shows. Roberson split her time between two different WGBH programs, Frontline, a weekly documentary covering hard-hitting topics, and The World, which airs international news and stories an hour daily.
Upon arrival at The World, she jumped right into the hectic world of media and began pitching and producing her own stories.
“At first, I didn't really know what I was doing,” Roberson said. “They really let you learn on the job.”
The first story she worked on covered a graffiti artist named Rei Blinky who is seeking to bring color to the streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a city consistently listed as one of the world’s most dangerous. Blinky works with children to teach them about art and help keep them safe.
For Roberson, seeing the story to fruition was a powerful experience. A lot of work goes into one radio broadcast. On a typical day, she could be conducting interviews, making cuts of the audio recordings, writing the scripts for the host, or fact-checking stories.
She contributed to stories about climate change policy in China, human rights in Iran, Greece’s debt woes, and about an artist growing a “future library” forest who plans to print previously unread books on the harvested trees in 100 years - a living time capsule. That was the Norwegian story.
“I had so much help from everyone in the newsroom. It was really exciting to see it go from a pitch to being on the show.”
The person you hear speaking on air is not necessarily the one who did the reporting. On The World, the show’s host, Marco Werman, was the public voice that brought her work to life. A Duke alumnus himself, Werman related to Roberson’s experience.
Roberson said things she learned at Sanford helped prepare her for the challenges of journalism.
“Writing a webpage story is obviously different in a lot of ways from a public policy memo, but the skills I learned from writing memos translated over to my written reporting at The World,” she noted.
Important to any successful internship search, she believes, is a willingness to apply to many places but an appreciation for what makes each special—a cover letter with depth is key.
“It can be easy to send a form letter, but what makes a difference is if you really know the program you are applying for and what they do. They want people who are smart and know about their program,” she said.
Roberson will graduate this spring with a major in public policy studies, a Policy Journalism & Media Studies Certificate and a French minor. She is considering graduate journalism programs.