The cinderblock walls of my office are especially chilly today. The midnight rain had left a subtle stench of mold, and the carpet squished a bit under my heels. I wrap my scarf tighter and settle in for a typical day. Wednesdays in the Smyth County News & Messenger are reserved for the every-growing pile of unimportant leads and rambling voicemails that we avoid for the sake of real work. A red “5” flashed on screen of my desk line. The assistant superintendent’s voice breaks through the white noise as the number blinks from “5” to “4”. I glance into the bottom of my coffee mug. Monday Morning Gunk. I push it next to the stack of old papers and sigh.
Stephanie meanders down the long, artificially lit hallway to the newsroom past the old layout station and the sports desk. Her hair is still wet, but her blouse is freshly pressed. I could tell she had a long night of last-minute spats with the regional editors. She had stayed up late and showered right before driving the 45 minutes to the office.
Stephanie smooths the thinning remnants of her brown hair. I knew from the pictures on her desk that she was once a vibrant and admired woman. Now her beauty was fading all too early. Casualty of the job.
Stephanie pecks at small platter of snickerdoodles and mumbles something at me. I thoughtfully stare into the glow of my computer as though I didn’t hear her. Wednesdays are strictly for unimportant business. “I have a big assignment for you. You’re not gonna like it,” she mutters through the snickerdoodle crumbs. “Oh goodie. Those are my favorite,” I reply, half-paying attention. “Two words: Trump rally” I shot her a look. Jerry, the sports editor, muffles a chuckle. “Is…isn’t that something an editor should handle? Can’t Linda cover it?” I ask meekly. “We can’t spare any editors this week. It’s gotta be you.” “Shit.”
Condensation drips down my hand as my knees begin to ache. We had been standing in line at the back of the pavilion for the president of the local coal mining association to come forward and begin the ceremony. The town locals, clad in their best American flag cargo shorts and polos, look around the damp park grounds. The rain had just stopped in time for the announcement, and the humidity soaked to the core. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” the gruff Texan finally exclaims, not really needing the microphone. His thick forearm rests awkwardly on the podium. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. I understand this is inconvenient for some, but we have a very exciting special guest for y’all.” My black blazer was already beginning to stick to my back. I fidget with a laminated corner of my press badge. The line through security had put me on edge, and the crowd seemed to be encroaching more and more every second.
“This is my first political campaign. I’m only an intern. What the hell am I doing here?” “Please joining me in welcoming the next President of the United States: Donald J. Trump!!” I snapped back to reality and reach for my recorder.
“Congratulations on being a member of the corruption!” shouts a deep voice from the crowd before spitting on the ground at my feet. Trump’s comments about the press really stuck with some people. Apparently we’re ruining his campaign, though the overflowing parking lot seemed to contradict that theory. “Thank you!” I yell back to him while side-stepping his gift. They never teach you about this in college.
I pull the rubber earbuds out of my head and toss them on the pile of old papers next to the growing collection of nasty coffee mugs. Trump’s voice had become my inner monologue, and I can’t take it anymore. I rub my temples and stare at the glowing screen. It stares back, mocking me. “Maybe I’m not good enough. Why did I ever come here? I’m not cut out to be a journalist. Maybe Trump was right about the media. Am I really just spreading lies? No, no that can’t be. I’m just an intern. Interns don’t know enough to spread anything.” I push aside my doubts in favor of editing copy. So much for a Wednesday of strictly unimportant work.
Linda pops her head over the gray, felt-lined cubicle barrier. Her round cheeks and coal black hair on the wall make her look like a chipmunk. She smiles at me fondly. “How was Sir Trump today?” “Oh it was as much of a blast as you would expect,” I reply, trying desperately to hide my insecurity. “You know, he might be a crazy person, but that is one swell opportunity to see a presidential rally. That’s a story to call back home with.” She giggles and lumbers into the kitchen. Our little exchange gives me a temporary boost of confidence. So maybe I am just the intern, but I’m the intern who covered a presidential candidate rally. Maybe I’m not strictly unimportant. I pick up my earbuds from the pile and begin unknotting them. I hit play on my recorder and let Trump’s voice take over once more. This time the inner monologue is my own.
10:46 a.m. Saturday
I eagerly reach for the Weekend Edition from the stack in the breakroom. The top copy is still hot from sitting in the van all morning. I snatch a ripped copy from the closest stack and flip to the Main Section A: the strictly important news. There is was on Page 4, full color, a headline in all caps. Trump’s colorful photo sits below the fold. My byline is in black and white; my name is in bold. This article is mine and mine alone. No longer can I be considered just an intern. No longer is the work I do meaningless. I am a published journalist. No longer am I strictly unimportant.