Five years ago, I visited my uncle in the newsroom of the Chicago Tribune. Sitting in an empty cubicle, reading embargoed stories and listening to reporters around me chatter excitedly, I never would have thought I would one day be invited to reenter the newsroom as a reporter.
Perhaps that is why this summer was such a dream for me.
As I walked through the tall arches of the neo-gothic Tribune Tower, my knees wobbled, and I felt an embarrassing, dew-like sweat saturate my clothes.
But when Kyle Bentle, my summer mentor, greeted me in the lobby, I began to relax.
Four stories up, I took in the sights and sounds of the newsroom I had been in five years prior. It felt perfect, like when the shoe store only has one pair of your favorites left, and they’re in your size.
The reporters still chattered. The newsroom still buzzed. And I became a part of it.
My first few days, I charted numbers from polls and recreated other organizations’ graphics, learning the Tribune’s style.
I then received harder pieces. And harder. And eventually, I received shorter deadlines, too. At many points, I felt as though my editors, Jonathon Berlin and Ryan Marx, were playing sadistic tricks on the intern, but retrospectively, I see how much their assignments challenged me to grow as a visual reporter. No pain, no gain.
It’s hard to say which of my clips are my favorites. Perhaps the most obvious is actually a piece that has not yet been published about touch screen technology. It involved weeks of research and reporting, and now I can tell you what happens when you press your finger to your phone.
Another of my favorites is probably a simple, small piece I did explaining why Chicago was experiencing unseasonably large waves. Again, I love it because I got to do the reporting for it. I also had a fun time sifting through permit request sheets and other city documents for a piece about the challenges of owning a food truck in Chicago. For one graphic I did, I got to call the Pentagon. The Pentagon!
At the Tribune, I learned tricks about Illustrator, techniques of charting data and how to use GIS software; but the most valuable thing I learned was the importance of working as a team.
It was difficult for me initially to ask for help. That is, until someone offered to let me use their premade map or their already-drawn illustrations and I saw how much efficiently I could work on things. Over time, I was on occasion able to offer work that I had done already, too. And working with a few other people on a project, it became so obvious that each person’s strengths contributing to one piece will result in great things.
The word “teamwork” is so much more than a corporate buzzword in a presentation about efficiency.
Without teamwork, my life would have been hell the night the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. I would have been in trouble the night four of us put together a piece about the mayor’s campaign fundraising. I never would have gotten an illustration about the body mass index finished.
I’m proud to say that for a summer, I was part of the Chicago Tribune’s graphics team, and I hope someday they will have me back. Until then, I encourage my fellow data journalists to reach out and become invaluable team members where they are able.
And to the staff of the Tribune, thank you for putting up with me. You’re the first city, to me.
(Adam is a junior at Ball State University and editor-in-chief of the Ball State Daily News.)