When I first started getting involved in journalism, I was a high-school student eager to join the staff of our school’s newspaper. In charge of the paper was Robert Montera, a history and English teacher who always emphasized that the purpose of news media is to provide people with information that allows them to make informed, up-to-date decisions about their lives, communities and societies. However, being the wise man he is, Montera felt obliged to quote Abbie Hoffman, saying, “The idea that media is there to educate us, or to inform us, is ridiculous because that’s about tenth or eleventh on their list.”
At the time, I failed to recognize the true meaning of his message, but now, several years later, I can grasp the lesson he imparted to us. It was a lesson about bias and power.
The press is never neutral. In the media, everything is a choice: whose story to tell, how an event is framed, how the article is edited. Every person possesses bias, and indeed, no press pass will alleviate that bias.
Searching for an opportunity in the industry, I was jaded by the corporate apologetics of The Washington Post, the faux-objectivism of The New York Times, and the ubiquitous absence of a working-class perspective. Serendipitously, I discovered The Indypendent, a free monthly newspaper, website and radio show, uncorrupted by corporate ownership. Grabbing a copy of the paper from my local newsbox on 96th and Broadway allowed me to glimpse the voices and stories of people from my hometown.
There is no soulless, blue suit, 9-to-5 atmosphere at The Indy, only committed journalists working at all hours of the day. My supervisors, Editor-in-Chief John Tarleton and Associate Editor Amba Guerguerian, never embodied the ‘boss’ persona. Nothing felt top-down; instead, The Indy is a collaborative group working daily to produce news by the people, for the people. John and Amba welcomed me into The Indy family and nurtured my writing growth for two years.
As an intern, I had no one specific job, and that was great! I had opportunities to explore many sides of journalism. Transcribing interviews gave me contemporary knowledge of Sri Lankan protests, making social shorts for The Indypendent Newshour allowed me to learn about the Build Public Renewables Act, and taking photos allowed me to meet people fighting for alternatives to policing.
At The Indy, interns are never relegated to picking up coffee and dry cleaning; instead, interns are thrown into the deep end but given a life preserver. I was given many opportunities to write stories, and with each story, my writing improved as I learned from the edits and taking constructive criticism from John and Amba. My first byline covered a town-hall forum that New York Senate candidate David Alexis and New York Communities for Change were hosting on public safety. This experience allowed me to hear from the Flatbush community and some of its members who have (non-NYPD-centric) plans to create a safer New York.
Later, in my first summer, I covered an anti-war protest outside the United Nations, and spoke with its organizers and veteran peace activists who attended. I met Anthony Donovan, a protester who embodied passion, sincerity and kindness. There, I sang songs with grandmothers, danced to Anthony’s harmonica, helped march an inflatable B61-12 thermonuclear bomb down the United Nations Plaza and watched as police officers ended up arresting 11 demonstrators.
My second year with The Indy was even better than the first. I was given more responsibilities and was able to help other interns when needed. The August 2023 issue featured my writing for the first time in print. I could hold my work in my hands and see the culmination of weeks of research, interviews and edits. I wrote about the state of public buses in the city, learning about yet Eric Adams’ campaign promise that has gone unfulfilled.
Working for The Indy has given me the best introduction to grassroots journalism; this experience has given me a look under the hood. Nothing runs perfectly, but that was never a problem. I might get a phone call about a protest to cover the night before it happens or have an event canceled by organizers as I arrived. Yet, I was always excited to get that 8 p.m. call and only momentarily disappointed when an event was canceled, because I always knew that John had something else worth covering in his back pocket.
Whether I was hugging the pavement to capture the perfect picture or reclining in an air-conditioned room, writing and reflecting on the story of the day, working for The Indy felt meaningful. This experience has presented me with people and places I might never have known. I joined tenants in auditoriums around the city as they testified to the Rent Guidelines Board and expressed their frustration with rising rents, I banged on drums with actors on the SAG-AFTRA picket lines, NYCHA tenants welcomed me into their homes to photograph apartments at risk of demolition, and I joined Starbucks workers who infiltrated the company’s regional headquarters. For anyone considering it, an internship with The Indypendent will undoubtedly be exhilarating and enlightening.