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Benjamin Trachtenberg '18 discusses MSNBC internship

October 16, 2017

"This summer (2017), I worked as a Production Intern at MSNBC on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. It was an amazing opportunity, but getting it was partly the result of the help of the Northwestern community."

"As a student at Northwestern, I've been able to take advantage of so many amazing opportunities. One of which is the Northwestern News Network, a fully student-produced and reported news channel that broadcasts weekly from our studio on the Evanston campus. I am the executive producer of a political round-table show on NNN called PolitiCat. It was the student leadership of Northwestern News Network that organized a meet and greet with campus recruiters from NBC last spring. The internship program seemed like an opportunity to gain some insight and experience in both journalism and political science, so I applied. After a few rounds of interviews, I was offered an internship on the MSNBC prime time show, The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell."

"At the end of spring quarter, I flew back home to New York City and began work the very next day at 30 Rockefeller Center, where I was introduced to the team of producers and put to work immediately. As an intern, I was tasked with assisting the production team with putting together the materials for our nightly broadcast. Every day, we would arrive at the office at 3:30pm with nothing but the headlines of the day, and have an hour of television ready by 10 o'clock. This of course took an enormous amount of coordination between the executive producer, senior producers, segment producers, booking producers, associate producers, graphic artists, editors and our host, Lawrence O'Donnell, who had final say over all the segments, scripts and guests. My job was to make that coordination easier, and as a result I was constantly busy with a wide variety of tasks. I did a lot of research for the segment producers, who were each in charge of a block of the show (the chunks of programming split up by commercial breaks). This research could be anything from biographical details of a guest to the voting rolls of a specific piece of legislation, to quotes about a certain relevant topic. I also did a lot of transcribing of interviews, press conferences and other political events to help the producers in picking video clips for their segments. When I didn't have a request from one of the producers, I was watching live news coverage and scouring the internet for relevant articles and information, which we were encouraged to share with the whole team. In addition to my daily tasks, various members of the Last Word team took time to show me how their specific jobs are done and taught me how to use the programs that make the show possible. Everyone on the team was incredibly nice and really took an interest in me and the other intern, which made us feel like valued members of the team."

"This internship was not without challenges. Often we were changing the show up to the last minute to reflect the news of the day as stories broke, and this summer, stories broke often and late. The period of time around 5 or 6 o'clock came to be known as "Trump o'clock" due to news outlets' tendency to drop huge stories about the White House at the end of the work day, which was right in the middle of our day. This would send the entire team into action, re-organizing the show, canceling and rebooking guest slots, and of course, lots of time-sensitive tasks for us interns. I don't think I've ever typed as fast in my life as I did at the Last Word."

"There was also a sense that the work we were doing had to be as close to perfect as possible. Live TV doesn't have the luxury of endless rounds of editing and fact-checking, meetings and peer-review. Each member of the team had to be their own editor and proof-reader, and that extended even to us interns. When a producer asked me for information I made sure it was correct, concise and adequately sourced so that they could focus on their other responsibilities instead of worrying about me. Despite the seemingly individualist nature of this, it actually strengthened the team, because everyone knew they could depend on each other. The Last Word really demonstrated the value of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. We knew that at the end of the day, the people at home didn't know or care about the work of the individual producers. They watched the show as a whole, and sometimes one person's full day of work had to be cut for the greater cohesion of the show. When this invariably did happen, I never saw anyone protest, because they knew it was for the best."

"All in all, I'm really grateful for the opportunity to work at MSNBC this summer, and especially with such a great team. They made me feel incredibly valued and welcomed, and nothing encapsulated this more than being invited on the show at the end of the summer for a send-off, which Mr. O'Donnell affectionately calls "Intern Night." That was the perfect way to end up a summer filled with new experiences, challenges and a lot of learning."

Benjamin Trachtenberg,'18 is a senior, majoring in Journalism and Political Science.