September 12, 2013
By Mike Killeen
Cindy Gonzalez didn't flinch when asked if the Minnesota Public Radio Gary Eichten News Fellowship met her expectations this summer.
"It did not at all," Gonzalez said. "I expected to get coffee, or to make some copies. It wasn't that, from day one. We had a list of 20 online assignments on our online file, and our supervisor (Kate Smith) said, 'You better start working.' "
Likewise, Alex Forster wasn't sure what to expect when he walked into the MPR studios on June 3.
"I made a joke that I showed up expecting to see Birkenstocks and hemp shirts," Forster said. "They threw us right into the 1:15 p.m. meeting (to decide) what's on the news for the day. I never felt like an intern there. I felt like an employee there," Forster said.
Gonzalez, a senior Asian studies major at the College of Saint Benedict, and Forster, a senior English literature major at Saint John's University, completed their 10-week fellowship Aug. 9, learning the basics of news writing, reporting and production work with a goal to write and produce material for MPR newscasts.
The fellowship for CSB and SJU students was created in honor of Eichten, a 1969 graduate of SJU who wore many hats during an over 40-year career at MPR. He retired from his on-air duties in January 2012, although he remains an editor-at-large for MPR News. Gonzalez and Forster were the second group of students to complete the internship.
Forster and Gonzalez are not "rookies" behind a microphone.
Forster, after all, read morning announcements each Friday while a senior at Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minn. Gonzalez worked shifts at KJNB Radio at SJU to get comfortable behind the mic.
But each learned a great deal about reporting and work in the media from Eichten and Smith.
"She (Smith) gave us a two-week crash course in writing for the news and doing audio, and then she threw us right into it," Forster said. "We were writing for the newscast, we were conducting interviews, and we were helping out reporters if they needed anything."
"Gary came in once a week, and he helped us individually," Gonzalez said. "It was interesting to see that every time we talked to somebody at MPR, they all had different ways of approaching the same task. Gary was a host, and he would come and he gave me a lot of voice lessons. I'm a Mexican American, so naturally I have a certain way to say certain words. And, he always tried to help. He said, 'There's going to be people that might try to change the way that you're going to speak, but that's what makes you you.' "
"Gary helped me out the most with just becoming comfortable reading for the radio - working the microphone," Forster said. "He said, 'If you're not talking to someone, you're doing it wrong. If it sounds like you're reading, you're screwing up.' "
The experience also reminded Gonzalez of the value of a liberal arts education.
"I think the No. 1 thing that I learned was that I'm very honored to have a liberal arts education," Gonzalez said. "I never quite understood the importance of the liberal arts. After this internship, I realized people value liberal arts in a real world setting."
"The one thing I liked about the fellowship is you don't have to have a journalism background to apply for the fellowship," Forster said. "The skills you learn there - working on deadline, the writing skills especially - are going to be applicable anywhere you go."
Both say the fellowship stirred an interest for a possible career in the media following graduation. Forster is considering applying for the Kroc Fellowship to National Public Radio; Gonzalez is interested in doing media work abroad, possibly in China, where she studied abroad as a sophomore. Both would encourage others to apply for the fellowship next year.
"At the end of the day, if you don't want to go into journalism, you still learn so much about journalism ethics and the philosophy of journalism, and that was super interesting," Gonzalez said.