“So you’re telling me you don’t know how to ride a bike?” David Brancaccio’s eyebrows went up in disbelief. It felt like the fate of my whole summer internship came down to this paralyzing moment of embarrassment.
“I… I just… It just never came up,” I said with a shrug. Here I was, talking to an award-winning radio and television journalist, and I had little to say for myself. As I focused on this lapse in my childhood education, the sound of New York traffic seemed louder than ever. In my hometown of New Orleans, the swamp-like humidity discouraged me from having an all-American childhood, and I typically kept quiet when it came to talk of two-wheeled transportation.
“All right. This Friday you’re coming out to Jersey, and I’m teaching you how to ride a bike,” David said.
“I… OK,” I said with a slight air of disbelief. Me? Ride a bike? At the end of the week, he showed up at the office with an extra train ticket. My fate was sealed.
Riding a bike is a life skill, of course, but not the one I thought I’d acquire during this summer internship. I was one of three Elijah Parish Lovejoy Journalism Interns—students given grants through Colby’s Goldfarb Center to pursue summer internships. A writer and editor for the Colby Echo, I became interested in radio journalism when I took a creative writing course in documentary radio taught by Professor Debra Spark. I started listening to something that had been, until then, simply pleasant white noise on family vacations and daily car rides. There were stories all around me, and I suddenly realized that the basic unit of the human experience is storytelling. I listened, and I wanted in.
I applied to 11 radio internships, and by far the most appealing was the chance to work with Brancaccio and his team at Marketplace. I thought this seemed like a twist of fate; David Brancaccio grew up in Waterville, and his father, Patrick Brancaccio, taught English at Colby for many years and still teaches a Jan Plan in Italy. The show itself is a nationally syndicated audio program that looks at the world through the lenses of economics, business, and finance. With an internship letter in my hand, I listened to the familiar theme music on NPR and couldn’t wait to see what the summer might hold.
When I walked through the doors of Marketplace’s New York bureau, I imagined myself recording conversations with interesting people. My timing was a little off. Instead, I plunged right into stories already in progress, listening and helping radio gurus hard at work to meet their encroaching deadlines.
Brancaccio, the show’s former host and current special correspondent, had just returned from a trip to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, where he was covering several stories for his Economy 4.0 project—a beat that explains “the economy of the future and how it may better serve more people.” From hours of raw recording, David and his Economy 4.0 team (Amanda Aronczyk, a veteran producer, and Stan Alcorn, a media-savvy researcher/production assistant) would begin writing scripts and drafting the stories.
I had moved from Mayflower Hill to the real world. I spent long hours in our Manhattan skyscraper wearing oversized headphones while logging tape, a skill I would improve upon as the summer progressed. In doing so, I was listening to stories from people halfway across the world, hearing compelling voices involved with current events, and learning about economic policy along the way.
As an English major, I never got around to taking an economics class, but I certainly got a crash course this summer. Over 12 weeks I became familiar with an alphabet soup of government agencies (CFPB, FTC, and CBO, to name a few), with the workings of Wall Street and its key players (panicked-looking floor traders and “too-big-to-fail” banks among others), and with large economic issues (such as financial regulation and income inequality). The debt ceiling debate, market panics, and credit downgrades unfolded before me, with experts nearby to explain it all. That’s the task of Marketplace—David, Amanda, and Stan, along with all the people working with them, make the complicated world of economics accessible to everyone.
Along the way there were the surprising and memorable experiences that came with working in a news outlet. There was the day the CIA called my cell phone to answer questions about their World Factbook data we were using for a story. Another morning, Icelandic singer Björk did an interview in our office, causing considerable distraction and fanfare. One afternoon I went to Wall Street to gather interviews at the Museum of American Finance only to learn the difficult lesson of “always pack an extra set of batteries” for the digital recorder.
Then came the unbearably hot August day when I took the train to New Jersey to learn how to ride a bike—the last skill I expected to acquire from a summer internship. I looked somewhat skeptically at the silver contraption before me, the heat reminiscent of my hometown and my incomplete childhood.
“So we’re gonna learn how to brake before we even start,” David said, pushing the bike towards me. After 20 minutes of wobbling and heaving, I was on the cusp of making the bike an extension of myself. When he thought I was ready, David let go of the bike, and I heard a whisper in my ear: “Dude. You’re riding a bike.”
Since the summer has ended, a lot of people have asked me how my internship went. Like that hot August day, it began with a shaky start. But, with a little guidance along the way, I journeyed to unexpected places, learned new ways of looking at the world, and, now, I feel like I’m ready to take off on my own.
My answer in a few words: “Well, it was kind of like learning to ride a bike.”