Monday, August 4, 2014

Leaving the Labyrinth

Mazes. They mystify us, they intrigue us, and they frustrate us. Their twists, turns, and dead ends offer endless opportunities for us to make decisions that could swiftly shift our direction, or worse, halt us in our tracks.

Mazes have become an integral part of my internship at National Geographic Magazine…literally. In my second week as an intern, Nat Geo’s video team recruited me to help produce a short, online video on the “science of mazes.” I needed to find expert sources, write interview questions, attend shoots, and compile all location and personal legal releases. I worked on the video for the majority of my summer, and it was published in my ninth week (shortly after D.C.’s National Building Museum opened its “BIG Maze” exhibit).

In addition to the video, I had the opportunity to explore the topic from an editorial standpoint. When it was proposed that a news article on maze research accompany the video, I jumped at the chance to write it. The catch, I later found out, was that in order for this research to be considered “newsworthy” and therefore publishable, it needed to be less than one month old or embargoed (not yet published).

To find such research proved easier said than done. In fact, my efforts led me to several dead ends.

After two weeks, I had exhausted the library’s databases, made calls to 10 scholarly journals, and spoken on the phone to seven neuroscientists. In the end, the entire idea was scrapped and replaced with a short Q&A, scooped up from our unused footage with the video’s neuroscientist. At first, this new development felt like a major defeat. I had spent hours researching and speaking to scientists, even writing an entire article that was deemed “a valiant effort” by my editor, albeit an effort that was quickly killed.

Not only did this experience bring the (unfortunate) opportunity to see the difficulties that can come with reporting on such a complex topic, but it also brought with it a sense of excitement and passion that I will not easily forget.

I began to realize that my entire internship at Nat Geo has turned out to be a maze of its own. Throughout the past 10 weeks, I’ve run into my fair share of frustrating dead ends. But I’ve also turned down new paths, explored complex topics, and am now finally finding my exit. It’s a satisfying feeling, I must admit, and quite a symbolic one at that.

--Written by Emma Weissmann, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, National Geographic Magazine
--Edited by Sarah Barchus, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, AARP The Magazine 

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