by Christina Zdanowicz
University of Illinois, Urbana student
I looked up from the eco-friendly wedding story I was proofreading, clutching my signature red pen. Writers, editors and designers darted across the room making final changes to what would soon be the glossy pages of a brand-new magazine. Amid waves of nervousness and excitement, I realized I was part of something big. I was helping launch a real magazine called G, an environmental publication for Australians.
Only a few months before, I’d shown up at the quirky, laid-back COSMOS office way overdressed in a pressed, white button up shirt and black pants. Great, everyone else was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Way to go, you’re sticking out like a sore thumb already, I sheepishly thought to myself as I shook my editor’s hand.
I was not only the new editorial intern for the friendly-toned, Australian science magazine, but I was new to Australia. Right away I noticed that I wasn’t interning at the Chicago Tribune anymore – no more serious, hushed conversations or yelps of delight sounded when breaking news rolled through. Here the atmosphere was light, and laughter would erupt intermittently as sarcastic quips bounced between coworkers.
My editor, Sarah, and I enjoyed the same, dry sense of humor. I felt so lucky that I really got along with the gang of ten – mostly Australians with a Kiwi and a Brazilian in the mix – from the get-go.
The first time I wrote a science story for the Web site, it came back littered with spelling changes. Why were all these ae’s and u’s sneaking their way into my copy? Right, British spellings are commonplace in Australia.
Sarah started calling me a Yankee from then on. Apparently I wrote and spoke in the wrong style of English, the Yankee kind. I was just thrilled to have a silly nickname of my own. I knew I was really part of the team.
After getting used to Australian practices in writing – even some of the punctuations were different – I hit a groove turning out daily news stories for the Web site. Whenever a new medical study came out or a new microorganism was discovered, I was reading the findings and talking to top-notch researchers all over the world.
Even though I was working for an English publication, I was dealing with language barriers and time zone differences that made my head spin. Before this, I had never had to make international phone calls or do e-mail-only interviews because my source wasn’t a fluent English speaker. Lucky for me, science was the common language we all spoke.
With every interview, I learned what kinds of questions I needed to ask to get these experts and pioneers to explain their research in a simple way. I decoded the scientific jargon into something the average person could understand. I was translating the story into friendlier terms.
What I was doing was tailoring the stories to a specific audience: the science-loving general public. It’s knowing your audience and writing for them in a way they’ll understand and enjoy the content. And that’s what successful writing – and half the battle of journalism – is all about. The other half of the battle is making deadline!
“I realized I was part of something big. I was helping launch a real magazine… an environmental publication for Australians.”
Sitting in the pressure cooker all those hours paid off when the first copies of G magazine showed up weeks later. We eagerly tore into the package with a box cutter and multiple hands dove in to snatch the freshly printed copies. After a few minutes of feverish page flipping to check for errors, we let out a collective sigh of relief. Pride. That’s the only way I can describe how I felt about holding the magazine that I had helped create.
Working alongside a bunch of brilliant, snarky Australians made me realize that I wanted to someday work in a place that nurtured the same spirit of creativity and all-hands-on-deck passion. It only took me a trip halfway around the world to see it. I definitely met that goal and am happy to say, I found my American equivalent to my Aussie posse in my current position at CNN iReport. Luckily, they don’t call me Yankee here – that’ll always be my nickname back in Oz.