Friday, June 22, 2012

Expecting the Unexpected


It’s easy to fall into a routine. Every morning, I wake up at 6, leave at 7, get on the bus at 7:30 and walk into the office at 9. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But that’s not the way it is at Reader’s Digest. Once I step off the elevator and onto the fourth floor, there’s no telling what I’ll be doing that day.


The "ASME Pod," as Sheri and I like to call it.
Take Wednesday, for example. As I worked on fact-checking a story from an international edition of Reader’s Digest on a children’s fund in Cambodia, our research manager stopped by to ask if one of us interns had the time to do a quick interview. It turned out the next issue would feature a reprint of a classic story from the RD archives by Alex Haley (author of Roots) about his brother George, the second African-American to receive a law degree at the University of Arkansas. And I had to call George to verify the facts.

Suddenly, the butterflies started fluttering in my stomach. George Haley had worked under former Presidents Nixon, Bush Sr. and Clinton, was a delegate of UNESCO and traveled abroad to Africa and Europe to do speeches on behalf of the State Department. And I was just expected to call him at home and ask if he’s who this sidebar says he is?

But I did, and the interview went better than I expected. Haley may be in his late 80s, but his mind is sharp and naturally, as a lawyer, he was more than willing to take the time to go through every fact.

As I thanked Haley, I was still thrilled I had the chance to speak to him. Here’s someone who may not be a household name, but made a huge impact on the state of civil rights and course of American history. Still, before I hung up the phone, I got an email from another editor.

“Would you mind pitching me a list of funny gags from Louis CK and Dave Chapelle,” it said.

I chuckled; I couldn’t help it. I just spoke to one of the most celebrated lawyers, and now I get a chance to watch Louie do his thing and comb his material for jokes? Talk about a 180.

Of course, Reader’s Digest is a general interest magazine, and I can go from working on the Culture section to the Humor section in an instant, and that’s precisely what I love about working here. The atmosphere is energetic, not frantic, and incredibly positive.

So, I’m two weeks in, and though I may grumble and gripe about the three hours I spend every day commuting to and from Jersey, I can’t believe the range of work I’m getting to do. One minute I’ll be researching or putting together a slideshow, and the next, I’m pitching ideas for special projects or gathering jokes. I’m also in awe of the staff I work with, who can bounce ideas off each other and know exactly what Reader’s Digest needs to succeed. Sure, there’s an editorial calendar, but with the variety of tasks we do, there’s never a routine, just a flow of creative energy, from one editor to the next.


And that’s exactly what I love about working for a magazine.


- Shirley Li | Northwestern University | Intern at Reader's Digest 

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