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24 July 2012
From Afghanistan to Zambia – This Year’s MJ’s
27 July 2012

Diary of an Internship at Associated Press in Rome

Paola Barisani, an Italian who has just graduated from the JMSC with a Master of Journalism degree, is interning at the Associated Press (AP) in Rome, Italy  this summer.

Paola Barisani

Barisani recounts the first six weeks of her internship below:

First week: first bylines
As soon as I entered the Associated Press bureau in Rome, I didn’t even have the time to get over jet lag before I was at a press conference at the Vatican about a scandal over the Pope’s butler.

On my second day, I went to a press conference about the restoration of an important piece of Italian artwork, interviewed the culture minister and some other experts, got back to the office and wrote an article about it in the afternoon. To please my editor, I had to change it so many times that I felt like I had sweated blood and tears. But at least, I did earn my first byline.

The article went on wires the same day and got a lot of pick-up, including by The Guardian. The same happened to my second article, the following day, which was about an earthquake in the Emilia Romagna region.

Writing for AP was tough at first, but the courses at the JMSC provided me with good base – not only how to write well structured and accurate articles, but also catchy headlines.

On the last day of the week, I contributed to my editor’s reporting with research, calls, fact-checking and interviews.

Lessons learned: be flexible and always check every single fact and every single comma.


Second week: in the field
My second week started with field reporting and interviews.

Interviewing Italian artisans and restorers about Rome’s history and heritage was fascinating. I learnt a lot about the city by simply talking to people. During the week, I also had to cover the Tax and Crime Forum 2012 and the Italy-Ireland football match. I went to Campo dei Fiori, one of Rome’s main squares, with one of the photographers, and interviewed people on the game and the economic crisis.

The story was included in a wider article which included contributions from Spain and Greece and ended up in the New York Times, which of course was extremely satisfying. At the end of the week, I also had to do some interviews on “youth and the economic crisis”.

Lessons learned: if you have to go back to your editor without all the necessary information, make sure you have the phone numbers of the people you have just interviewed.


Third week: first long feature
I spent the third week doing several assignments while researching and writing my first long feature story on Woody Allen’s new movie, ‘To Rome with Love’, which was released in Italy on April 20.

I also went out to the Spanish Steps with a photographer to gather some quotes for a business article on tourism and the economic crisis. Phone interviews and fact checking were also part of my duties this week. Plus, pitching ideas for new articles on culture.

Lessons learned: How to select news for an international audience and how to collaborate with different departments.


Fourth week: in the News department
This week was more quiet and mainly spent in the office. My article on Woody Allen went on the wires and was picked up by several papers, in English and Spanish.

I had to write a short story on the finding of a battleship called “Rome” that was sunk by the Germans in 1943, one day after Italy signed the armistice with the Allies.

On Sunday night, I also had to report from Circo Massimo, where the final Euro cup match was being shown on maxi screens. I worked until midnight to get quotes from both Italians and Spanish football fans and get some good colour for the story.

Lessons learned: dealing with situations in which reporting is difficult, for example big events where you cannot transmit the information to the office due the network’s breakdown.


Fifth week: on the photo desk
This week I joined the Photo department and started to learn theories of optics and photography and how to choose and edit pictures according to AP style. I also learned how to catalogue them in the AP database. The cataloging process is done by looking at every picture that every local newspaper publishes everyday.

Lessons learned: an understanding of how papers choose the photos.


Sixth week: Rome through fish eye, telephoto and wide angle lens 
In my second week at the photo department, I was sent to use a camera around the city.

First, I went to check out a theatre occupied by artists for a year, then to the Colosseum for a test aimed to evaluate the risk of accidental rockfalls due to the deterioriation of the monument, and then to take pictures of a famous traffic cop for a lighthearted summer feature.

For the latter, I had to stand in the middle of Venezia square, one of the most chaotic places in the city, and take pictures of the policeman in action. Taking care of everything (frame, aperture, shutter speed, background, focus, the subject’s movements etc) was quite hard. The weather also changed very suddenly that morning which only made everything more challenging.

When I came back to the office, half of the photos were unusable but we did find three of them that could be sent to London. They went on the wires that same day. They weren’t the best pictures ever taken but it was nice to see my name on AP photos.

I also learnt how to write the captions. The course News Editing at the JMSC, taught by Rusty Todd, was very useful in this case, as it prepared me to write captions based on the AP style.

Lessons learned: how to use different lenses according to different situations.