Conrad Otto, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism, found himself in the Great Plains at Sioux Center, Iowa, just a day and a half after his junior year ended. He was here to test his skills in journalism at Dordt University with a two-week internship at the World Journalism Institute.
That’s what he thought when he saw the variety of people this internship drew.
“There was a guy that was 26 working in Wyoming,” Otto said. “You got a guy who's from Rutgers with the thickest New York accent. I thought it was a joke at first. You had a girl who just got pregnant, and she's married with, I think, the first kid.”
This was just the beginning of being thrown into a whirlwind of chaos.
The first week was rough for Otto, and he felt like he was being mentally broken down. Each day, he attended lectures, mock interviews, and certain events.
One assignment took him to the Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa, where he was supposed to interview policemen on the street. Otto said that he struggled to get any cops to sit down for a chat because they were on patrol and there weren’t that many policemen around.
“My article went from ‘talking to the police,’ to ‘why are there only three cops that I see here for a festival of over 1000?’” Otto said.
He attended two presidential campaigns, one for Ron DeSantis and the other for Tim Scott. Otto spoke with a variety of people about their viewpoints on the candidates, including members of the Senate, state senators, a local townie and a bus driver.
Otto often didn’t get a newsworthy answer immediately from the people, but he kept on asking more questions.
“If you're poking around the right way, you're doing journalism right,” he said.
Otto noticed key differences between the two candidates’ campaigns. While he was able to talk with Scott because his campaign was much smaller, he only got a handshake and a picture with DeSantis.
Everything was an observation point. On both campaigns, Otto said he noticed a lot about the demographics before he even interviewed anyone. When he arrived at each event, he took notes on the condition of the warehouse he was in, how the people and candidates were dressed and how much media was there.
Another thing Otto discovered was how many places these candidates were visiting. Iowa is the first state in the caucus, so both DeSantis and Scott had up to eight locations to stop at in a short amount of time.
“Be prepared to understand that your time will not be wasted,” Otto said.
He had to fill out a time log for the required 120 hours of work at the two-week internship. In the end, he exceeded the standards with 141 hours and 40 minutes. Going over the required time was just part of the internship, he said, having one day logged almost 14 hours.
Often, the projects were overwhelming and time-consuming.
“I was turning in a Tim Scott story, and it was supposed to be political — kind of hard news, and I turned it into a feature,” Otto said. “The professor wrote and said, ‘Either you didn't format this correctly, or you chose not to.’”
Otto re-wrote the entire article. When he turned it in again, it received much better feedback. The professor appreciated that he took the time to reconstruct the story, Otto said.
The highlight of the experience for Otto was getting to bond with people from all walks of life while doing the internship. He found a commonality with these people with whom he spent so many hours going to class, taking notes and writing.
“Some people are more tuned to the political side of Christianity, and some people are more tuned to certain churches and certain sects of Christianity,” he said. “It's so awesome to see how much we can come together as one.”
The two weeks of endless interviews and writing projects came to an end, but Otto arrived home with a new perspective on his major that he is now taking into his senior year.
Learning about biblical and journalistic objectivity changed the way Otto thought of news. He said the internship trained him in how to apply biblical truth to the news with the stories he wrote, the information that was gathered and how he framed the events.
“(There is) nothing else that's going to be more important than glorifying God,” he said.