Silicon Prairie News

Aspiring journalist Andrea Ciurej shares her SPN internship experience

Omaha September 27, 2010 by Andrea Ciurej Only 17 days until Big Omaha. Get your tickets before they sell out!

Silicon Prairie News summer intern Andrea Ciurej poses with foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley at Big Omaha 2010. Photo from the Big Omaha Photo Booth by Malone & Company.

Editor's Note: We asked our 2010 summer intern, Andrea Ciurej, to share her experience as a summer intern at Silicon Prairie News. Andrea can be reached at andrea@siliconprairienews.comfound on Twitter at @aciurej, and found blogging at andreaciurejsblogsite.blogspot.com.

As we approach our mid-20s, we often wonder if getting our first car at 16 and becoming legal at 21 were the last milestones left to look forward to. As a journalist with aspirations to work for National Geographic Magazine, I found those milestones to be only the beginning.

May, in particular, proved to be a month of many milestones, let alone new beginnings. Within the first week, not only did I turn 22, I also walked across a stage with more than 1,300 University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) students, with diploma in hand, as an accomplished graduate – journalism graduate to be exact. There was much to be excited about on graduation day. Not only did I graduate magna cum laude, I graduated as a former editor-in-chief of The Gateway (UNO's bi-weekly, student-run newspaper), a former newsletter editor of MaverickPR (UNO's Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter), the founding president/co-president of Lambda Pi Eta (UNO's School of Communication honor society), as well as a former undergraduate teaching assistant. 

And the buck didn't stop there. Within that first week, I began working as a social media intern with the Omaha World-Herald. As an aspiring journalist growing up in the Omaha community, it's quite obvious that someone like myself would want to end up working at the World-Herald. It was all a part of my original three-step plan of action before pursuing National Geographic:

  1. Work for a small, suburban newspaper, such as the Bellevue Leader or Papillion Times
  2. Become a reporter or photographer at the Omaha World-Herald
  3. Attempt to leave Omaha in the hopes of acquiring a role at a national-scale newspaper, such as USA Today or the Los Angeles Times

As of present, I skipped step one and fell short of step two. Although I didn't land a role in the World-Herald newsroom, there was no disappointment on my part. I still landed, what I believed to be, an outstanding opportunity to work alongside Pat Lazure, president of World Interactive Group – a new division within the World-Herald focused on new media opportunities – assisting him with the work on a website he co-founded, WikiCity Guides.

Although I didn't spend anytime in a newsroom this past summer, I still felt as though I did interning with this next organization – one I'm sure most of you reading this have heard of – Silicon Prairie News (SPN). From May through August, I felt I gained all of the professional journalistic experience I ever would've hoped to have acquired from a newsroom position at the World-Herald. Turns out, writing blog posts was only the beginning. 

I officially began my internship with SPN on May 10 and immediately hit the ground running in preparation for Big Omaha. Right away, I was put in charge of managing the attendee list, which included more than 500 individuals. I was also responsible for managing Big Omaha's press by reaching out to local media outlets, as well as bloggers from around the nation. Not only was I responsible for keeping them posted on the event, I was also in charge of aligning interviews and such if needed. But that's not all.

Silicon Prairie News managing editor Danny Schreiber and Andrea Ciurej at Big Omaha 2010. Photo from the Big Omaha Photo Booth by Malone & Company.

I also was a part of setting up for Big Omaha, which was held at KANEKO. Let me be the first to tell you how much planning goes into this event. Just starting, it was already apparent to me that a year's worth of planning goes into this event and attention to detail is crucial – from the speakers they hope to have speak at the event to the amount of space between chairs at the event so guests have enough sitting room to enjoy the speakers. Although I was only an intern, I got to be a part of it all. And, I got to meet a lot influential individuals in the process. While shaking hands with foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley and getting to drive in the same vehicle as WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg were definitely among the highlights, meeting regular attendees, such as the World-Herald's Josefina Loza and Malone & Company's Andrew Marinkovich was just as exciting as meeting the speakers, the same goes for the volunteers. 

Big Omaha could have easily been an internship on its own. There's a lot for a recent graduate to absorb from this one event, as there is a lot of event planning and logistics that go into its overall production. I was fortunate enough to be a part of such a great event, and I can easily say that this was one of the most inspirational events that I have ever been to. Of course, Big Omaha is only a three-day event. I still had the whole summer ahead of me. The rest of the internship proved to be just as exciting, as I got the opportunity to write several blog posts about startups, entrepreneurs, creatives and more.

It turned out that SPN's style of writing, in most cases, was the exact same style that I was used to writing in, which was your typical news-style writing. And, just like any newspaper, they also had an editing process that they would follow to make sure each story was as error-free as possible before publishing their content. Of course, where I benefited the most was getting the opportunity to go over my edits one-on-one, whether it be over the phone, using Google Docs or in person. Not only did this help me grow as a writer, but it also opened my eyes to a different perspective of editing. And after our stories were published, we were also encouraged to promote them on Facebook and Twitter, as well as engage in conversation with SPN followers. I also got the opportunity to use Google Analytics and Wistia video hosting to follow along with the traffic of the blog, as well as our videos.

Andrea Ciurej serves up ice cream at Silicon Prairie News' 2010 summer ice cream social. Photo by Danny Schreiber.

While writing these stories, I quickly learned that there's more to journalism than simply the aspect of reporting, but more so the opportunity to connect with the person who's story you are trying to convey. I also learned that SPN has such a unique audience, one that is passionate about what they are doing and is more than willing to be a part of their overall mission. Having an audience and subjects who understand your organization's goals just makes the job that much easier and 10 times more enjoyable – at least from a journalist's standpoint.

Not only did I get a chance to interact with SPN's unique audience when writing blog posts, I also got to do so proactively by networking, which allowed me the opportunity to connect with Omaha's core group of entrepreneurs and creatives. Although I am no longer an intern, I am still getting the chance to interact with these people today, especially as SPN continues to build their audience and raise awareness about the region's leading entrepreneurs and creatives.

While I know I probably forgot to mention some of the other great opportunities I was involved with during this internship, I can easily say that choosing to settle for an internship with Silicon Prairie News was – no doubt –the best decision I ever could've made to excel as a journalist.

SPN is a smaller organization, and because of that, I believe I got the opportunity to experience so much more moving forward in my professional career. As it turns out, SPN was just as invested in helping me finding my way in the workforce, as well. 

But what did I learn? More than I ever could've possibly imagined. Not only did I get the opportunity to continue writing, I was exposed to various aspects of event planning, public relations and social media. I also got an inside look into the startup world and how it works, especially in Omaha. All it takes is an idea, and after once my time interning with SPN came to an end, I left with a few ideas of my own:

  • While I would still like to eventually pursue a position with National Geographic, I learned that I would like to stay in Omaha and pursue other types of writing, perhaps in a small business.
  • I now have a passion for entrepreneurship and the creative community, and with that, I hope to encourage students who are well on their way to graduating from college that they can still lead a prosperous life in Omaha. It's just a matter of stepping outside of your network and connecting with the right individuals.
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As a journalism professor, I'm excited for students and recent graduates to find these new kinds of opportunities. I'm excited about the direction journalism is going. It's a little scary, but the creative possibilities are terrific.

Sep 29, 2010 at 08:15 AM

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