PBS Internship Explores Media and the American Experience

Ally Troy

When the year began, I – like everyone else in the world – had no clue where it would take me. As we entered January, I was very hopeful in what the new year would bring me and was ready to dedicate the time and effort in finishing my last year in school. After coming back from a successfully planned trip to Europe for a close friend who also had graduated from Kennesaw in the fall, I had the motivation to get through the next two semesters, graduate, and transition into a new phase of my life and career. I had my course schedule set for the spring 2020 semester and was excited to learn for my last semester of fall 2020, I would only need to take a couple of anthropology courses and an internship. Since it was only January, I decided that I didn’t need to worry about finding an internship at that moment and I had time to find one for the upcoming semester. But little did I know that the state of the world would be flipped entirely in just a matter of weeks that would affect everyone including me.

By the mid-point of the spring 2020 semester, the conditions of the country and the world was drastically changed, and the new way of life began to bring challenges for everyone. Seemingly overnight, we went from a normally functioning world, to a world that was experiencing a global pandemic that left majority of the population to quarantine in their homes for an undetermined amount of time. This lockdown required many non-essential businesses to close down and large institutions to also shut down to keep people from spreading and contracting the virus. As expected, Kennesaw decided to close their doors for the rest of the semester, leaving all the students and faculty to facilitate school via online. At this time, regarding my next semester, I was still confident I would take my classes and find an internship by the start of August, if the world would ever get there. So, I went through the rest of the spring semester dealing with the transition to online school and guaranteeing good grades while enjoying the extended stay at home. Once I finished the semester with acceptable grades and realized I had the summer off, I decided to focus on working and relaxing through a time of global uncertainty.

But as I entered the last half of the summer, the simmering heat of responsibility began to rise as August was approaching us. By this time, I knew I had to start looking for an internship since it would be a lengthy process of searching, applying, going through the acceptance process and then registering it with Kennesaw. The only problem was that due to the unexpected lockdown, most of the institutions I initially wanted to apply for were closed for in person contact and was unsure of when they would be open. Because of my major, I originally searched for internships that were focused on anthropological work such as museum positions to do various jobs such as archiving, historical research, and curating. But since all of the positions were located in public institutions, I begin to feel hopeless as I received emails from applied positions explaining that their location was closed, and it was unknown when they would be opening back up for the public as well as the staff. The frustration and stress to find an internship during a global shut down resulted in me spending countless hours on handshake and other internship-finding platforms, scrolling through positions that met the expectations of myself, the school, and the no-contact state of the world.

With my handshake updated and minutes away from falling asleep, I decided to end one of my nights in early August by scroll through handshake and quickly apply for things that piqued my interest. By this time, the roles I were looking for changed from my original plans, and I was now looking for positions that were remote and involved work in either non-profit organizations or media. In my anthropology courses, since I always had an interest in cultural anthropology, specifically ethnography, I decided that I could look into finding a position in the media entertainment field that required a lot of culture and historic research for content creation or media production. With this in mind, I immediately stopped scrolling when I saw the position of “Outreach Production Intern” for an unheard company called RadicalMedia LLC and because it said I met all the requirements, I decided to look more into it since I had nothing else going for me.

As I started reading what the role would involve, I began to get curious as to why and how this opportunity fell into my lap. The overview of the role immediately began with asking if anyone was interested in storytelling and helping this company tell the stories of Americans across the country. After this, it informed the reader that the intern would be involved in the outreach productions of a new internet and tv special called American Portrait, and the intern’s job would include reaching out to people from across the country and get them to participate for the special, as well as other roles such as editing and content production. The more I read into the description, the giddier I was becoming. I had finally found an internship that looked promising from every aspect, and all it required was for me to apply for it. That night I sent in my application and hoped I would get a response in the following days.

While waiting for a response, I decided to do some research on the company that I had recently applied for. Upon looking at the RadicalMedia website, I realized that I stumbled onto something unheard of and extremely amazing. Of course, RadicalMedia was a media production company, but I had no idea what type of media they actually produced. But by looking at the website, it seemed that RadicalMedia had produced everything and anything. They had work with major fashion corporations like Nike, Adidas, Vans, collaboration work with celebrities and Google products, music videos, documentaries on National Geographic, helped with the production of the internationally known Broadway show of Hamilton and even created a heartwarming ad for Dial soap that I had seen on tv weeks before. The list of their work was endless and unmatched and by this point, I was dying for them to accept my application. And not long after looking into the company, I got an email from Steve S., one of the Intern supervisors informing me that he had looked over my application and wanted to set up an interview to talk more. Hearing this, all of the stress that built over the course of the unpredicted past months were wildling away, each day.

In my interview with Steve, he began by asking me why I had applied for the position and why it interested me. I explained to him that being an anthropology major had caused me to love ethnographic practices such as storytelling and documentaries, and ethnographic journalism for media productions was a role I recently found out existed and wanted to learn more. After a quick conversation about why producers at RadicalMedia wanted students that were involved in social science fields like anthropology and entertainment fields like film for their new project, Steve began talking about the project the interns would be working on. The production was called American Portrait, and it was a collaborated project with RadicalMedia and PBS to conduct informal interviews with Americans from across the country about what it was like to be an American today. The project would involve people creating media content such as videos, photos and writings to answer prompts of various humanistic topics like community, work, family, and social issues, and for interns, we would essentially be the middlemen, contacting people from different parts of the country and getting them to participate. Steve explained that this project was in the early stages of production and the interns would have an amazing time participating because their work could potentially be put on tv when the special was aired on PBS in the following year. After we talked, Steve told me that he would email me the rest of the details and when the internship would start. From that point, I was officially an intern at RadicalMedia, about to start working on an amazing project that would greatly affect my career.

So now, as we are entering the last month of my internship, I felt that it was a great time to reflect on the experience I had with working with RadicalMedia on the PBS project. Overall, I would say I had an amazing time working on this project and I will forever remember my time as an intern. Entering the internship, I had no previous experience with any entertainment industry company, and it was my first time working on a media project. Regardless of this, Steve taught us about our duties equally and reassured us that whatever educational background we were pursing, it was vital for the overall need for the role. Jumping into the deep end, our duties were to find 10 stories each month on the three topics we were assigned, and have participants create videos answering prompts about our topics. To do this, it would involve us in heavy outreaching through email, phone, social media platforms and anyway we could think of. We would also have opportunities to submit our own stories and work on other parts of production if it was needed. From the start, Steve expected us to fully commit to finding our stories and overall embody our roles, something I was definitely willing to do.

Typical workday for me.

But soon after starting I realized how big of a challenge it would be. Because I didn’t have any past experiences of outreaching, I was unaware of how hard it was and quickly got a reality check on the time and dedication I had to spend on my internship. When outreach is involved, it requires heavy acts of contacting lots of people. This meant endless searches on google, Facebook, Instagram and other web platforms to find people and convince them to participate. Before this, I had never experienced much rejection, but within this internship I found out I would constantly be told no or get no responses from people I contacted and eventually I had to learn that the key to this internship was to keep reaching out, keep convincing people that it was an amazing opportunity to be a part of this project, get over the rejection and if you do, you will eventually get people to want to participate. I had troubles dealing with this in the first couple of weeks and the constant rejection was causing me to doubt myself and if I was able to do it. Luckily, after talking to Steve and him reassuring me that it was normal to feel frustrated with the rejection, I decided I would continue my outreach with more dedication to finding stories. 

From then, the enjoyment of my internship began to grow as well as my love for what I was doing. Though the rejection was hard to deal with, the greatest thing was when people were interested in participating. From their enthusiasm to be on the project and realizing that it was a great way to help individuals express who they were and what made them unique, I started to love reaching out. I reached out every chance I got, at work, at home, on the weekends, at night, with friends, friends of friends, coworkers and distant strangers. I enjoyed getting different topics each month and having to figure out how I would go about finding individuals that fit the story. It has given me the opportunity to look into different groups within different communities that I didn’t know existed, and how people approach the same topic differently. Plus, by having Steve show us how our participants’ submissions were going to be involved in many internet specials and tv specials for American Portrait, it reconfirmed how important my work was for the production and it was that satisfying feeling that kept me going.

Check out the trailer here! https://www.pbs.org/american-portrait/series/preview/preview-10-pbs-american-portrait-trailer

Also, from working on this project, I have been in contact with crewmembers on the show who are involved with other parts of production and they have offered more ways for interns to get involved further into the project. I have gotten to record extra footage that will be used for the show, which I will be credited for, and I am currently working with the content production group helping them sort through all of the videos to create featured collections on the website and for the television specials. Personally, I love how engaging seasoned staffers who work with RadicalMedia or PBS are with the interns and how willing they are to let interns be a part of other areas of the show to teach them what goes into a media production like American Portrait. From being able to participate in outreach as well as content production, I learned how much work is involved in content making and how many roles are crucial to producing something that will be enjoyed by millions of people.

It has also made me more aware of how necessary anthropology is within a field like entertainment. The entirety of the project is centered of the humanistic view of America and how people from varying backgrounds view the world in different perspectives but ultimately have similar experiences. Like in anthropology, it is a way to learn about the lives of groups, communities, and individuals, listen and record their stories and reflect on the human experience. It’s a non-traditional but new way of practicing ethnographic methods such as informal interviews, cross-cultural referencing, and research though the advancements of technology. This experience also causes reflection on past anthropological courses since we are dealing with a country-wide population of potential participants. Our topics let us reflect on a particular communities’ societal past and how they’ve been overall shaped by society. I have definitely relied back to the teachings in classes such as Cultural Diversity in the U.S., Human Variation, Methods of Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology when I am writing about how my work is related to my degree.

Check out my own submission to American Portrait here! https://www.pbs.org/american-portrait/story/17620/alexandra-t-loganville-ga-a-days-work-is

My time at my internship was unmatched to anything that I would have ever thought I would be doing. At the beginning of the year, I was sure that I would be in an anthropological internship that involved museum work, and at the time, it was what I wanted to pursue. But from the twist of fate, the pandemic and having to work remotely has led me into another career path that includes new and innovative anthropological practices in the fields of visual anthropology, journalism, and media production. My future career goals now involve getting into media production research and being able to work on an array of entertainment projects to provide an anthropological perspective on film, tv, and internet content. I am very grateful of what this internship has done in the long run of my career and has steered me to a path where I would find fulfillment in pursing,

I would recommend this program to anyone that is interested in looking at a new perspective of cultural anthropology. This was very different from what I was originally looking for, but in the long-term I am grateful that I found it. It’s perfect for students who would enjoy adding an anthropological view on entertainment and media content or those who like film, documentaries, and talking about current social issues. Like any intern, I am hoping a job offer does come from this opportunity but if not, I will still cherish how this internship how grown me both professionally and personally. During an uncertain time in the world, this internship has brought much joy, confidence, and skill building to myself and my career, and I will be forever contented with my experience in with RadicalMedia, PBS, and working on American Portrait.

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