I would not be writing this if it weren’t for my wife, who got me my internship with Notre Dame Magazine. I wasn’t in America. She was. So she went to “the interview” with Kerry Temple, the editor. I had contacted Mr. Temple what seemed like months before, with no definite answer. He wasn’t sure why some student from 4,000 miles away was asking for a six- or 12-month full-time internship for academic credit but no pay. Would he have to find a place for me to live? Was I even real? Abby, then my fiancée, took care of those worries, and Kerry agreed to a six-month deal, with an option to extend.
Now that time has passed. A full year of my four-year education I have spent here, with people who know how to write. I, on the other hand, didn’t think much of good feature writing. No, writing hard news, that was the thing. The facts, nothing more. I used to think that my classmates who dreamed of exploring Africa, interviewing some unknown artist or profiling George who lives on the 5th floor, were a little full of themselves. Who needed those stories? Where’s the Fourth Estate, the critical questions, the watchdog? Real journalists don’t write about such nonsense.
Ironically, in this issue you will find my byline thrice: One news story, but also one feature about elephant polo and then this letter, which isn’t exactly investigative journalism.
Come to think of it, maybe the storytellers weren’t the ones who were full of themselves. The watchdogs may be more important to society. But the great feature writers are important for the individuals, the people, their way of thinking and living — and that’s where society starts. Without that, how can we be good, informed citizens?
That wasn’t the only lesson. My first real assignment came shortly before the 2016 fall semester. The Notre Dame Band was having tryouts, beginning with a march through campus, and I was covering it. Easy enough. I went, I saw, I wrote. The facts. “Can you put some ‘I’s in there?” John Nagy, the associate editor in charge of the magazine’s website, asked. I’d only done such first-person writing in school, and it had gone poorly. It turned out this would not be the only time that I had worries about comments from the editors — sometimes they didn’t even run my stories! (Looking at you, John and Carol, for refusing my blog about why the Star Wars prequels are the originals’ superior.) Fortunately, this time, it worked so well that my blog got one of the best social media receptions Notre Dame Magazine had ever seen. How do you like that for a boost of confidence?
A year later I haven’t even come close to reaching that same Internet fame we millennials crave, leading me to think the reaction had little to do with my writing and more to do with the topic — one that hundreds of students, parents and alumni are intensely passionate about.
Since then I’ve written on many topics, both fun and serious: the divides afflicting America, war, racial diversity, Augie’s Locker Room and farming — by my own hands and others’. I even got a taste of politics and wrote “Notre Dame Magazine Endorses Mmmfff… for President.” I particularly enjoyed writing the (anti)endorsement blog, though it came with the risk of ridicule. Because, honestly, is there not something silly about a 23-year-old journalism student thundering against the political endorsement practice of most U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times? Places you dream might one day employ you? Dumb move.
If you have read some of my pieces, you have probably noticed many references to Denmark, my home country. You might wonder why you have to read all this stuff about some insignificant place with a population size similar to Minnesota’s.
Here is what I believe: You don’t need to. At least, you don’t need to read about Denmark specifically (though it should be noted that we’re consistently near the top of the happiest nations on Earth and we have the least corruption in the world). No, what matters is questioning the way things are done, especially if it has always been so. Reading about how it’s done somewhere else helps with that.
There it is again — the lecture from the now 24-year-old. So allow me to leave a quote Kerry Temple sent me on my first day. It’s by the writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: “This is what I find most encouraging about the writing trades. They allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence.”
Here is what I know: A year at Notre Dame Magazine (mostly paid in office snacks, coffee and Diet Coke — and plenty of it) is not enough. Maybe one day I will come back, but for this journalism student there is still much to learn before I can bring the family photo to a desk in Grace 500.
Rasmus Schmidt Jorgensen is a student at the Danish School of Media and Journalism who is studying at Notre Dame; email firstname.lastname@example.org.