History MA Student Michael Williams Writes About History for a WETA Internship

History MA Student Michael Williams Writes About History for a WETA Internship

History MA student Michael Williams recently completed an internship at public television station WETA, where he put what he has learned to good use. You can read all of his posts at WETA's Boundary Stones blog.

Where was your internship and how did you find it?

My internship was with the Digital Media department at WETA located at Campbell Place in Arlington. I discovered WETA by searching through a list provided by Dr. Suzanne Smith, the internship coordinator, which lists organizations who have accepted Mason interns in the past. My history concentration is in new media and information technology, so I was limited to internships which provided a digital component. WETA was listed as an organization looking for digital historians, so I applied on their website.

What were your main responsibilities on the job?

My main responsibilities were to provide content for WETA’s local history blog, Boundary Stones. Boundary Stones focuses on historical events and stories locally in the Washington, D.C. metro area. My main tasks included providing topic ideas for potential articles, researching topics, writing articles for the blog, collecting historical photographs for use in articles, and learning WETA’s blogging platform in order to post my work to the main website.

What were the most rewarding aspects of your internship?

One of the most rewarding aspects for me about WETA is the ability to write history for a popular, rather than academic, audience. I’ve been drawn to history my whole life because history remains one of the greatest stories ever told. My writing style tends to work best telling stories rather than providing arguments, so WETA was a perfect fit for me to do this. In addition, because we needed to keep our articles somewhat short due to the nature of the blog, I was able to get a lot of practice with keeping my writing concise and trimming a lot of excess material.

What was your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishments during this internship were the articles that I wrote. As a part time intern, I was able to provide different articles on a wide variety of topics. I wrote a three article special coinciding with Halloween on grave robbing in Washington, D.C., a topic I was familiar with from a previous course at Mason. My most popular article centered on the history of the Alexandria Torpedo Factory Art Center, which received over 700 shares on social media and was featured on the front page splash of the Boundary Stones website in November. I’ve also written articles on such varied topics as the rivalry of sportscasters Glenn Brenner and George Michael in the 1980s, Alexandria’s pre-prohibition brewing history with the Robert Portner Brewing Company, and Fort Hunt’s secret World War II history as a German POW camp and escape factory for Allied POWs in Europe. To coincide with a PBS miniseries this winter on Alexandria during the Civil War, I will be working on a few articles on makeshift hospitals in Alexandria which I will send in after my internship is concluded.

What did your internship teach you about being a professional historian? Did anything surprise you?

I don’t think anything really surprised me with this internship. I imagine the most important thing that I learned about being not just a professional historian, but a professional anything, is the need to be your own boss. At WETA, members of the digital team are consistently busy with multiple projects. To be successful as an intern a certain amount of independence is required. You have to be able to come up with topics on your own and do the work in a timely fashion without having someone looking over your shoulder. If you’re constantly looking for someone above you to tell you what to do next, you’re not going to advance very far.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your internship experience?

WETA is a fantastic internship opportunity for anyone interested not only in history but in broadcasting and journalism as well. WETA provides seminars for interns, called Lunch-n-Learns, which introduce interns to all of the different aspects of WETA as an organization and allows them to network with individuals outside of their assigned departments. During my time I’ve been given crash courses through these seminars on the television aspects of WETA, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera as well. WETA is also kind enough to offer HR workshops to allow interns to learn the ins and outs of finding a job after graduation and critiquing interns’ resumes to make them more effective as well. WETA is a great opportunity for an internship and I cannot recommend it enough.