This past summer, Thy Vo (HC ‘14) was awarded the Andrew Silk Summer Journalism Internship grant, a $3500 stipend to support an 8-10 week internship in print or broadcast journalism. As an investigative reporter with the Voice of OC, which describes itself as “a non-profit investigative news agency dedicated to in-depth coverage of Orange County government and politics,” Vo covered the Little Saigon beat while working on other stories as well. The Editor-in-Chief of Haverford’s online student newspaper The Clerk, Vo has received the Silk Internship grant an impressive three times. I recently asked her a few questions via email:
When did you first become interested in journalism?
I joined the staff of my high school paper in the 10th grade and was hooked. I was thirsty for more of the world and desperate for some kind of self-actualization. I found it rather empowering as a high schooler to be given the freedom to reinterpret and investigate my environment. And I think I loved the excuse it gave me to approach figures of authority and ask for an explanation.
How did you find out about the Silk Internship grant?
I probably wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t done an externship shadowing Michael Novinson ’10 arranged through the CCPA (then the Career Development Office). I shadowed Michael during Spring Break and at some point I was anguishing about money and internships and Michael told me about the Silk grant. So I seriously owe him one for telling me, otherwise I’m not sure I could have gained so much valuable experience.
What did you do during previous summers, as a Silk Internship grant recipient?
I interned part-time at an alternative weekly, The Santa Barbara Independent, and then full-time at The Orange County Register. At The Independent I just picked up little assignments as they were assigned to me, but at The Register they were short staffed and handed me an entire city beat. So I was reporting on politics, government and community events.
How did you find out about Voice of OC? How did you get the internship there?
I’m from Orange County, and having worked at The Register for one summer I was aware of the media landscape. Voice of OC focuses on public interest journalism, the kind of traditional city hall reporting and investigative stuff I wanted to be doing. So I started reading them my senior year of high school and had decided early on that I wanted to end up at VoC at some point.
What did you find most valuable about the internship?
I really liked the environment – a small newsroom of experienced investigative journalists from different backgrounds. I felt kind of lost in the big paper bureaucracy at The Register and given that I’m not a journalism student, I really wanted more guidance. So there were two very valuable things about Voice of OC. First, they gave me a lot of responsibility and room to work a beat. I covered two city halls and partnered with more experienced reporters on a few larger investigations. Secondly, the staff was always there for me to give me advice or help me with a difficult situation. One of my editors, I could call him at midnight and he would stay on the phone with me until 2 am if I wanted to flesh something out.
What was the most challenging aspect of the internship?
Getting public records. I sort of had an idea of how journalists get information from government bodies but I didn’t realize how difficult it could be and all the ways an agency could find a loophole to avoid handing over documents. Often times I would request a document and be told that it wasn’t public information or that what I was looking for didn’t exist. It look a lot of coaching from my editors, knowledge of the law and persistence on my part to realize when the law was on my side and what information truly belongs to the public. In one instance, a public agency tried to charge me $54,000 for six months of email records. Things could get quite confrontational and tense and for awhile I had trouble reconciling my Haverfordian docility and politeness with that.
What’s your favorite story from the internship—strangest thing that happened, most exciting moment?
I got lucky and broke a story about nepotism in one of the cities in my beat. Eight current and former employees were close relatives of the mayor, city manager and finance director. I think that story gave me an amount of street cred disproportionate to my actual skills, but respect can be hard to come by for a mousey looking 21-year-old so I’m milking it for what it’s worth.
What advice would you have for students interested in journalism?
Journalism is so vast and experiences so diverse that you really have to do research and inform yourself to pick a suitable internship experience. It’s really a difficult time to be getting into journalism and especially when you don’t really know what you want to do, it can be nerve-wracking to try and decide if you want to do newspapers or magazines or radio or whatever. I decided to go local because I figured it would be a better environment for me to learn how to work a beat and I looked for a smaller organization so I would be given more responsibility and more guidance. I didn’t see the point of applying for an internship at some big paper and getting the story leftovers and making slideshows for the website so I found small publications who could really use me. In the grand scheme of things, I got lucky, but I think it’s important to think about what you want out of an internship and who can offer it. Don’t overlook opportunities in your hometown.
Vo might’ve monopolized the Silk Internship during her time here at Haverford, but she’s graduating this year–now’s your chance to get in on it! The $3500 grant, awarded by the CCPA, is available to any current Bi-Co freshman, sophomore or junior (from Bryn Mawr or Haverford) pursuing an 8-10 week internship in journalism this summer. Details can be found here; apply here. The application deadline is March 19.