In the beginning, I did not know what kind of internship I wanted to do. I only knew that daycare would probably cost me an arm, both legs, and a few internal organs.
My main criterion was that it had to be a job that I could do from home. When Brian posted a message on the M.F.A. blog about an Online Editor position with Fairness.com, I jumped on the opportunity. I sent my resume and a letter of recommendation to Dan Doernberg, the publisher of Fairness.com. We swapped a few emails back and forth and eventually had a phone interview during which I nervously babbled my way through a few simple questions about my qualifications and why I considered myself a good “fit” for the position. I emphasized my flexible schedule; “I’m a stay at home mom,” I said (no less than four times), “so I am very flexible.” Much to my surprise, Dan hired me about a week before Christmas, and I started training after the residency.
Fairness.com (www.fairness.com) is an online clearinghouse for articles on a wide range of fairness topics. The tagline, “Life isn’t fair…but we’re working on it”Ò reflects Doernberg’s personal interest “in helping to change…some of the ‘cultural infrastructure’ that makes it far too easy for the powerful to take advantage of the less powerful.” Visitors to the site can view articles on subjects that range from corrupt business executives to how Jaime Lynn Spears’ pregnancy will affect the way parents talk to their kids about consensual sex. As an intern, my job is to research articles that are appropriate for the site via RSS news feeds or through my own Web surfing. I then use a software program to link the articles from the publisher’s website to Fairness.com, and to catalog pertinent information about the people and organizations mentioned in the article.
I learned within the first few days of training that a “fairness issue” is not always easy to find. Doernberg seeks to enlighten his readers with articles that offer a new perspective on an issue or raise thought-provoking questions about it. For example, the news is full of stories about people who break the law – in fact, a good percentage of the headlines deal with home invasions, kidnappings and murders. Technically, one could argue that these actions are “unfair” because they violate the victim’s rights. Yet the fairness angle of such a story is obvious, and too simplistic for the goals of the site. On the other hand, I must also avoid articles in which the fairness implications are so wide in scope that visitors find them boring and repetitive. In this election year, for example, readers will encounter hundreds of news stories claiming that a presidential candidate favors policies that are unfair to certain groups. True, this is a fairness issue. But people can read about such issues on any news web site; the story is not unique or specific enough to further the goals of Fairness.com. Dan provided me with sage advice in my first couple of weeks: if I cannot state a fairness angle in basic "third-grade terms - if I cannot finish the sentence, "It's not fair that (Person A) did (unfair action) to (Person B) because..." - then the article probably is not appropriate for the site.
Here's an example of an article that falls somewhere between "too obvious" and "too broad." I recently submitted an article from the Washington Post about the hidden prevalence of elder abuse, and how such abuse extends beyond “visions of nightmarish nursing homes” to include neglect, financial exploitation and psychological cruelty. The author raises the questions, “How do we as individuals and as a nation measure the value of life in old age? And why have we not done more to protect and defend our most vulnerable elders…? Why has there been no public outrage?” The article suits the goals of Fairness.com because it provides readers with new, in-depth information on how people often take advantage of the elderly, and it raises new questions about why such abuse has gone unchecked.
While this internship does not involve any original writing, one of the benefits is that in reading real-world news stories, I see “seeds” of fictional stories that I might write one day. For example, I recently submitted a story about the thin line between “tasteful” and “offensive,” in which a Boston comic includes a joke about how she once went on date with a man in a wheelchair. She jokes that while the date was terrible, “at least the guy had his own transportation.” When the joke got only meager applause, she looked up to see four wheelchair-bound guests making their way out of the room. I started to think about what it would feel like to be one of those people, a character that has perhaps been looking forward to this “night out” for weeks, only to be ridiculed by a bad comic. Could be a good story, right? So while I might not be writing my own short stories every day, I feel as though this exposure to current events will ultimately open up new avenues of creativity for me as a writer. As a side perk, it also makes for much more interesting conversation at the dinner table. One of the best things about this internship is that it has brought me out of the “bubble” in which I lived. It has made me more conscious of, and emotionally invested in, the people and groups who do get taken advantage of every day.
Finally, a word about that great “flexibility” that I rambled about in my first interview with Dan. It turns out that I am not flexible at all. With a needy pre-toddler in the house, I have to do my two hours of interning either during nap times, after bed time, or early in the mornings. This means that some days, I get up two hours before every one else in the house – which seems wretchedly unfair, if you ask me. Fortunately, I know I am a becoming a more well-rounded person and a better writer for it.Sources
Fairness.com. “About Fairness.com, LLC.” Feb. 1, 2008.
Connolly, Marie-Therese. “A Hidden Crime.” Washington Post: Sunday Outlook. Jan. 27,2008.<<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2008/01/25/A R2008012502774.html<<
Jones, Vanessa. “No offense, but…” Boston Globe. Jan. 29, 2008