Through a recent internship with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Journalism student Michael Rooney bridged the gap between his past experience as a lawyer and his future career goal of being a journalist. At RCFP, Rooney wrote stories about First Amendment issues and journalism and access-related court cases around the country. We talked to Rooney in April about what it was like to work for RCFP during the spring semester.
MPS JO: What are your responsibilities as an intern for RCFP?
Michael Rooney: Besides having tons of resources and guidelines for journalists about the law, RCFP also has a news stream on its website. I write a lot of short stories that are important to First Amendment issues, privacy issues and court access issues.
[Check out some of Rooney’s articles: “Lethal Secrecy: State secrecy statutes keep execution information from the public,” published as the Spring 2014 cover story, “Filling in the background: Public bodies move to requiring background checks for press credentials when safety is an issue” and “Ninth Circuit begins live video streaming en banc proceedings.”]
MPS JO: What is the office environment like at RCFP?
MR: Very friendly. It’s a small staff. Including myself, it’s 10 people. As for the atmosphere, it’s very friendly, very cordial. There are three legal fellows. That’s who I generally work with, so people coming into the program are going to be around people your own age. It makes it a little less daunting. You feel a bit more camaraderie.
MPS JO: What is your favorite thing about the internship?
MR: Just the availability or the opportunity to write long enterprise pieces for the magazine. At a lot of other internships, you’re not tasked with that large of a project. I was able to do two large enterprise pieces for the last issue of RCFP’s magazine. The staff definitely trusts their interns to do serious work, but they also push interns to do their best. I’ve been writing upwards of 2,000 words for stories, and at other internships you might not get that opportunity.
MPS JO: How does the internship relate to or supplement the classes you’ve taken with the Journalism program?
MR: You definitely get the chance to write much longer stories in a newsroom situation. The course that has helped me the most was Dina Cappiello’s Reporting and News Writing, where I got a really tough but really good exposure to writing correctly. Coming from a legal background, we write in a very different way. Even though at RCFP the subject matter is the law, all the subject matter is targeted toward non-attorney journalists. Taking Dina’s class, I learned how to write in a more journalistic way than a legal way, which helped me when I hit the ground at RCFP. I credit that class with most of the background I needed to do well at this internship.
Another class that really helped me in a different way was Business Reporting with Alan Bjerga. One of our exercises was to write a story on deadline, meaning in about 30 minutes. Most of the stories that I write for RCFP’s website are very time sensitive, so the exercise we did with Alan was great practice for writing stories with a really quick turnaround.
MPS JO: How does having legal background contribute to your experience at RCFP?
MR: It’s very valuable, although you definitely don’t need a law degree to do the writing I do. It helps me understand the issues that I write about in a more detailed way. Although there are three legal fellows, so if you’re ever caught on what a story means for the law, they’re there to help with all legal questions.
MPS JO: Do you have any advice for students looking for internships?
MR: Taking an internship in addition to your classes is a great thing to do because, not only is it a great experience in writing, it exposes you to the editorial side of turning things around, writing multiple drafts of pieces. An internship is really going to push you to do your absolute best. It puts us in a working setting where people are going to help hone your skills. Taking an internship in addition to taking your classes in invaluable.
MPS JO: Why Georgetown?
MR: I had been a lawyer for three years, and I realized that it wasn’t for me. Still being relatively young, I wanted to make a change before it was too late. I decided that if I wanted to make a change in career, I should get a master’s degree. I felt a pull toward journalism; I was essentially a news junkie. When I started at Georgetown, I was still working as a lawyer, so I needed a program that was for working professionals. Once I found Georgetown, it was kind of a no-brainer. Georgetown has such a prestigious name, and the faculty is comprised of great thinkers in the D.C. news world.