A journalist receives no greater gift than to be granted an interview—town official, event organizer, man-on-the-street.
It’s a gift of trust and, other than spelling people’s names correctly, there’s no more important job than respecting that trust.
How scary to put your faith in some reporter, to believe that that person will convey just what you mean to say and not put words you never uttered into your mouth—or worse, to report accurately the words you said but take them out of context.
So the first thing we asked New Canaan High School junior Alex Hutchins when he interviewed for our NewCanaanite.com summer internship program was for permission to publish our entire exchange online should he get the gig.
He did, we’re very excited to say, and below we’ve transcribed our entire interview this month at Zumbach’s Gourmet Coffee.
Before we get to it, special thanks are owed to figures in the district who helped guide us in getting our debut internship program in front of the teens who may want to participate (we are seeking one more high school student, send your info to me if interested at firstname.lastname@example.org): NCHS teacher Mike McAteer who helps oversee the Courant staff, Vice Principal Ari Rothman, Hazel Hobbs, chair of the Board of Education, and Sue Carroll, coordinator of the NCHS College and Career Center.
Please look out for Alex this summer and say “Hello” if you see him around.
New Canaanite: So you have been with the Courant staff for the last year?
Alex Hutchins: Yes.
Tell me about it. How’s it going for you.
It’s good. I think the best part of it so far is just getting to work with different people and especially going out into the community. The school community—it is a high school paper. Just getting to know people that I see every day in the hallways better. I did a story on Dan Antoniu, who has a club at the high school, and so I got to know him better and see what he does.
I love the focus on people. And I think one of the great rewards of the profession, for me, is you get to meet people or get to know a business or a building or an area—you cover an event somewhere—and it creates a memory of that person or place where you see them later and it triggers something, it creates these layers of memories from your experience. It really kind of slows time down and enriches your experience of the town. It is one of the great rewards to me of covering community news. You’re a young guy, a junior, so you’re not even sure where you’re going to college, let alone what you may study and what you want to be—and that should probably change a couple of times once you start—do you want to talk to me a little bit about what you like about journalism? What drew you to it, generally speaking?
OK, so I watch “The Daily Show.” That’s the only way I get my news, really. So seeing highlights on things like Fox News and other shows where you have, not corruption, but maybe there’s some falseness to it, and times where some cable network may be the first one to get a story out even though it’s not exactly true. Seeing that, I was kind of inspired to focus on getting the facts right, and making sure I have a story right and not doing a tabloid thing, but focused on the people in the community.
What’s the one story you reported that you enjoyed the most once it was finished? The one you sort of hang your hat on and say: “I did that.”
I think the first story I had ever done, because I didn’t really know journalism. I feel like I kind of went out and interviewed the right people and got a sense of what the story was and put that from what they said onto the paper and that there’s wasn’t any missed communication between them. So that was about a breast cancer awareness club at the high school.
Oh wow, good one. What are your thoughts on the New Canaanite. Have you taken a look at it?
I have. I actually wrote a story about the New Canaan [High School] baseball team here, because they won the championship in 1950. I looked at your article about that, to look for people to interview.
Right, my brother Terry wrote that one. So, community news is different from “The Daily Show” or Fox News. Covering something in a small town. You’ve lived your whole life here, right?
Where did you go to elementary school?
West School and then Saxe and the high school.
What do you think about taking what you’ve been doing inside the high school and bringing it out into the community and starting to cover events at the Nature Center, the Chamber of Commerce with the Pop Up Park, nonprofit organizations and local businesses?
I think it’s definitely important. Because it was the New Canaan Patch, was it, that has stories that tend to be not true always—you used to work with them, right?
I cannot confirm or deny. I signed a non-disclosure agreement. But please continue.
Just looking at it, they release names of people arrested, and it just seems like I want to do what you guys are doing. Getting to know people and telling their stories correctly. Not all about being the first one. You obviously don’t want to be late to the game, but you don’t want to be the first one if you don’t have your facts right.
Let’s say we were already into this program, which is still a few weeks away, and I parachuted you into New Canaan and just said, ‘Alex, I need a story today. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I need it by the time you sign off at the end of the day. I need your story with photos to anchor my newsletter because my story fell through.’ Where would you go to find that story?
Where would I go?
Or what would you do? Who would you contact?
I would definitely contact my parents and people in the community that I know. Even walk around town, because you find things everywhere.
How would you know it when you saw it?
I walk down Main Street pretty often and I may see something I haven’t seen before.
Like a new store that came out, or the Pop Up Park, for example, and there’s something that’s going on that’s out of the ordinary, you may go and investigate.
I love that. That’s another one of the joys of this profession, I think, is that there’s a sense of discovery about the job, which honestly you don’t get with a lot of jobs, where you sort of know what your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities are—there’s some comfort in that, but there’s some adrenaline in not really knowing what you’re going to run into. Or even if you have something scheduled, not really knowing what’s going to come out of it. Whether you are going somewhere to shoot some video and you don’t know what your material will be. You know today I interviewed a gal who has been running Staying Put in New Canaan, a very important organization here, for seven years and she’s retiring. And I had no idea, didn’t know anything about her. But you sort of discover these things and that’s a joy. There’s a reward when you have a sense at the end of the day that you came upon something and you reported it, and if you hadn’t reported it then the readers wouldn’t know about it, because no one else did. If you are the type of person who can live with that uncertainty, it could be a great profession and something that you really enjoy.
How does the internship work?
My idea is that we just sort of start working together, and I’d like you to get to the point where you are putting up one post per day. And a post is not a full-blown article like what you may have produced for Mr. McAteer for the print paper. A post that is exclusively online can be something very short and immediate. How does that sound workload-wise? Is this something you’ll be working in while you do other things?
This summer, junior year before senior year, is always busy. I’m free for most of the summer. I am committed for one week for a soccer camp in Amherst, Massachusetts. Other than that I’m all set and I want to work.
You’ve been a varsity soccer player since you were a freshman?
No, well freshman year they did not let anyone move up, so everyone was on freshman. Sophomore year I was on varsity and then this year I was also on varsity and next year I’ll be captain.
Oh yeah? That’s awesome. Congratulations. So you’re going to a soccer camp?
OK. And do you have ideas about college already? I know sometimes people do.
I’ve done visiting so far. I know I definitely do not want to go in the south. Not to be prejudiced, I think the culture doesn’t fit with me personally. But I definitely looked at NESCAC schools, like Amherst.
Like Bates and Bowdoin and Colby and all of those?
Specifically Amherst, because my dad went there and my sister goes there.
Yes, I know he went there.
And also Wesleyan in Connecticut and just schools in the Boston and northeast area.
I know a girl from Greenwich who just graduated from Wesleyan and she loved it. Would you be able to start June 23? That’s the Monday after the last day of school and graduation.
Yes, I think so.
I think it’s a matter of giving you access to the CMS [content management system]—that should be fine for you, you’re probably pretty tech-savvy and can orient yourself quickly to a platform—and then having some things scheduled for you to cover, getting the copy from you and then going over it. What are some things you’re interested in writing about?
What kinds of stories do you want?
We do every type of story. We do in-depth news stories. We did a three-part series on heroin and New Canaan. We cover government meetings, we write about land use and development. Really, I think that the best stories are when you’re talking to people and presenting them to the town. So, profiling a business owner for example. How well do you write?
I think I write fairly well. I definitely make spelling mistakes.
You’re not like obsessed with adjectives and things like that, you don’t write in flowery language and sort of stick words in there just to make longer sentences?
OK. Let’s give it a shot. Any questions for me?
Just one. So if I were to intern with you, what would a successful internship look like to you, at the end of it?
I would love for you at the end to be able to say that learned to become a better reporter and especially that you learned some tips and tricks about interviewing, about writing around your holes, you learned about writing for the Web specifically, which is a very different approach than writing for print—I mean, literally, you could be covering something for a newspaper and it should be a totally different story than if you are presenting it to a Web audience, they experience news differently. This could be something you sort of stick in your back pocket and keep there as you try out different types of areas of study and jobs that you ought to try out for the next 10 years. That’s what I’d want.
You’re in the SLOBs?
How did you get into that?
Well, I found out about it because my sister did NCL, which is the version for girls, the National Charity League. I actually didn’t know about it until eighth grade, and I joined it because a lot of my friends were doing it and it’s at the high school and you’re doing it with a lot of people in the community.
It’s a cool group. Any other questions for me?
Not really. Not at this moment.
I’m looking forward to it. Let’s go get a picture of you for this story on you.