My Summer Internship at Baltimore Witness

From the moment those case numbers were called from the choppy phone line during training, I knew I’d be a part of something different. 

This is my first internship, but I also have never been in a job or volunteer position where the training week consists of less than two day of icebreakers and games. We went straight into it. 

Along with the pressure comes significant excitement and motivation. I admired the work D.C. Witness has done and what Baltimore Witness aimed to do before I became an intern here. Listening to all of the supervisors sharing their mission, work, and experience with us face to face was more inspiring and important to the unity of this new team. 

In the first formal week, I started with the court calendar role. Even though another intern and I raced to get relevant cases on the calendar before 9 a.m., we still ended up finishing just a few minutes before the time was up. Back then, I never expected that I could go through the entire docket alone with precision. Besides, I adapted to the new calendar interface quickly.

The database marked my first encounter with Airtable. Once I got familiar with our spreadsheets, future inputs are more of an attentive job. Though the work is repetitive, I felt rewarding doing it, knowing each one is a building block to something more that Baltimore Witness is achieving.

Note taking in court hearings over the phone became less of a stressor through time. At first, I would lean over the speaker and hold my breath, trying to catch every word they say. Now, because I got more familiar with the procedures of the hearings, I understood which are words of formality and which are the specific information of each case. 

Listening to a Zoom hearing in the courtroom and watching a hearing play out both enlightened me. In the Zoom hearing, I got to see a courtroom clerk guide the judge in administrative matters.  This is brand new for me because I was never taught how a Zoom hearing would play out in class.

In the in-person hearings, each circumstance was a bit different. During a reception, I saw the judge and multiple defense attorneys and defendants. I also noticed that the security officer would stand up when there are defendants in the room and only sit down when there aren’t.

During a transport to court hearings, different sources provided different room numbers, so another intern and I got to communicate with courtroom workers and “explore” the courthouse to look for the room. The defense attorney cross examined a witness who showed up on Zoom, the homicide defendant was accompanied by a security officer at all times, the clerk sat in the jury box, and the only ones sitting with us seemed to be the family members of the defendant. 

The pandemic activated an interesting combination of practices within the criminal justice system. The dynamic of the procedures mixed in with the uniqueness of Baltimore City is captivating. 

Though I often did research on theories through reading academic articles, rarely have I researched a live organization and interviewed live people. I learned from the whole process as well as the interviewees’ professionalism. 

Writing articles and press releases really sharpened my writing skills and pulled me closer to the media field. For example, we’ve been talking about the lede ever since training, but what that means and what that looks like differs as we write about articles on one case, on multiple cases, on a case update, etc. Experiencing, adapting, and learning was a very meaningful process for me. In the university, there’s no way I can draft, write, and receive detailed feedback everyday. 

Additionally, I took a journalist writing course in my freshman year out of interest and curiosity but never found the right way to approach it. During this internship, I’m beginning to understand what writing in journalism aims to do and how I should go about it. Skills and experience build on top of each other.

 It might be obvious that journalists write to inform, but I feel only under a profound understanding of that idea will one know how to utilize writing skills to accomplish that goal. I still have a long way to go.

I appreciated working with everyone. I learned from everyone’s unique sparks and thought we formed a vigorous group. It would be cool if we had a chance to get together once a week to share our progress and bond with each other more. 

I still remember the first day of training, when I chatted with the other interns who are as new as me, “I can’t believe we are trusted with so much work”, someone said.