Students enjoy unpredictability of journalism during summer internships

Jonathan F. McVerry
July 24, 2019

(Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of articles about students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications completing summer internships.)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Caitlin Lee and Lauren Lee had never been to Pittsburgh before, and expectations were high in June when they arrived at the Post-Gazette to start their summer internships.

They expected a big city experience at one of the nation’s oldest newspapers, but it didn’t take long for them to see something they didn’t expect: an alligator.

For the second time this year, an alligator — a former pet let go or lost by its owner — was found within the city limits. The two budding journalists, not related, were on the scene to cover the oddity.

Lauren Lee graduated in May from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and shares an apartment with Caitlin Lee, a rising senior majoring in photojournalism. The two worked at The Daily Collegian and decided to room together after accepting their internships at the Post-Gazette.

Their paths to journalism are strikingly different. While in high school in central New Jersey, Lauren Lee wrote for the school newspaper and became an editor. She visited the University Park campus as a high school senior and was enthralled with the size and “chaos” of the Collegian’s newsroom.

“It was so cool to see a real newsroom in action,” said Lauren Lee, whose high school newspaper published monthly and was housed in a classroom. “I was amazed at all these college students running around and working really hard. I tried out as soon as I got to campus.”

Caitlin Lee grew up in suburban Wisconsin and attended a charter school to study fine art photography. She learned technical skills and honed her style at the school. She identified photojournalism as a practical use of her growing skill set and was impressed that the Bellisario College offered it as a major.

Caitlin Lee particularly likes sports photography. She knew Penn State would offer a lot of opportunities to cover sporting events. She has visited places like Madison Square Garden and the Citrus Bowl to cover Penn State sports teams.

“When I’m shooting sports, I like to capture faces and emotion,” Caitlin Lee said, adding that she's been "trying to improve my storytelling abilities through my photos” while working at the Post-Gazette. 

As a photojournalist, Caitlin Lee revels in the variety of stories she covers. One day she is covering Pittsburgh’s Pride Parade, another day she is taking photos at a high school baseball game, followed by snapping photos of an escaped alligator that night. On Father’s Day, she took photos at a father-daughter event and later covered a house fire.

Neither intern is keen to sit at a desk all day. They like to move, learn from others and see new things. The night the alligator got loose, however, was a summer highlight for them both.

“It was just my second week and it was really exciting,” Lauren Lee said, whose story about the wandering reptile made the Post-Gazette’s front page on June 12.

“It was such a weird experience. I was sent home early and [the editors] said they’d let me know if there was any spot news, and I didn’t think there would be any. But then I got the call that there was an alligator in someone’s backyard.”

— Caitlin Lee, Penn State photojournalism major and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette intern

“It was such a weird experience. I was sent home early and [the editors] said they’d let me know if there was any spot news, and I didn’t think there would be any,” Caitlin Lee said. “But then I got the call that there was an alligator in someone’s backyard.”

Both women thanked Bellisario College faculty members who were former Post-Gazette journalists for connecting them to the respected and recent Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper. Associate teaching professors John Beale and Curt Chandler encouraged Lauren Lee to apply and gave her tips on getting her foot in the newsroom door.

“They are professors I look up to,” she said of Beale and Chandler. “They supported me and talked about their time at the Post-Gazette, which was inspiring.”

After applying, Lauren Lee took an extra step to make sure the internship decision-makers didn’t forget her.

“[The Post-Gazette] was at a job fair here on campus and I was in the Short Doc Workshop at the same time,” she said. “I left the workshop for 30 minutes because I wanted to make sure I greeted them in person and let them know that I was really interested in this internship.”

It worked.

Caitlin Lee said Beale encouraged her to apply and gave her tips on making a portfolio, as did her friend, Penn State graduate Antonella Crescimbeni, who also worked at the Collegian and interned at the Post-Gazette.

“Working here has been different,” Caitlin Lee said. “I am getting feedback and learning from photographers at the Post-Gazette who I’ve admired for years. It’s different having them as my peers and having them look at my work.”

Lauren Lee said she is often “starstruck” when Post-Gazette reporters walk by. She said sharing a newsroom with veterans in the industry and having their support and guidance has been inspirational. 

Over these past summer months, both women have enjoyed the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of journalism in a big city. They have worked on a variety of assignments, including stories happening at University Park like recent fraternity news and the U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer final watch party at Panzer Stadium.

“It’s a different adventure every single day,” Lauren Lee said. “You go places you don’t expect and talk to people you wouldn’t expect to talk to. It’s cool.”

Lauren Lee said she hopes to continue working in journalism once the internship is complete. She has an interest in multimedia and documentaries and sees herself doing investigative work on social issues in a city like Pittsburgh.

“The public needs information,” she said. “I think that journalism is so important for our democracy and the way people make decisions and stand up for themselves.”

Caitlin Lee is looking forward to her senior year at Penn State and doesn’t have a set idea of life after graduation, but she hopes to continue taking photographs and capturing the emotions of the people she sees through her camera lens.

“It’s my first time living in Pittsburgh and it’s been a lot of fun so far,” she said. “I’ve been trying to do as much as possible while I’m here.”

But if an alligator ever gets loose again, Caitlin Lee and Lauren Lee will be ready to report.

Last Updated July 24, 2019