The Columns

From the Classroom to the Capitol Sutton Travis ’19 gained a wide breadth of journalism experience as a summer intern at Texas Monthly magazine.

— by on October 9th, 2017

“It was when I was weaving through the crowd at the Capitol, looking for protesters to interview while also doing my best to snap clear pictures and tweet concise updates, when I realized, ‘Wow, I’m a real journalist.'”

Sutton Travis

Majors: Journalism, with plans to declare a double major in English

Minor: Plan to declare one in creative writing

Where did you intern this summer?

I am interning with Texas Monthly in Austin, Texas! I was honored to receive a scholarship from the Rouse-Bottom Foundation through W&L’s journalism department to help cover my expenses this summer.

Tell us a little bit about that organization.

Texas Monthly proudly labels itself “The National Magazine of Texas.” The magazine is recognized across the state for its coverage of all things Texas. To quote from the website, Texas Monthly has been “Covering Texas news, politics, food, history, crime, music, and everything in between for more than forty years.” With content ranging from a heartrending long-form story about lives lost in a fire on the Panhandle plains to a carefully researched list of the top 50 barbecue joints across the state, Texas Monthly writes on subjects that appeal to the emotions and interests of all Texans.

Describe your job there.

As an editorial intern, my responsibilities vary from day to day. I might spend part of one day sitting in on the monthly meetings for the editorial staff, and the rest of the day transcribing interviews for writers or helping conduct research for upcoming magazine articles. During my time here, I’ve contributed to research on topics ranging from football to vetoed bills or energy grids. I also occasionally have the opportunity to report and write stories for the website!

What was the best story or project you worked on?

One of my favorite projects involved collecting research for an element of the football package in one of Texas Monthly’s upcoming issues. I’m not sure how much I can say about the final product since it has yet to be published, but the project gave me great insight into the process of producing content for a print magazine. Over a month’s time, the other intern on the project and I worked closely with an editor who guided and shaped our research. We also met with the editor and one of the magazine’s fact-checkers several times to ensure that our copy was as accurate and well-sourced as possible. And the end result is that we will actually have a byline in the print magazine!

Who did you meet, such as a source, a story subject or a mentor, that made the most vivid impression on you – and why?

The bulk of the time I was at my internship, I devoted time each week to plugging away at an ongoing research project for one of the magazine’s senior editors and long-form writers, Sonia Smith. She’s based in the Dallas area, so I didn’t meet her in person until she came to Austin for an editorial meeting when I was about a month into her project. She took another intern and me for coffee after the meeting, and we spent two hours talking about her experiences as a journalist, which have included working as a newspaper reporter, taking multiple journalism fellowships, and her current job, which involves traveling to places like Syria to report on her long-form stories. I was absolutely awed by her experiences. She let us ask as many questions as we wanted and also gave excellent advice about a career path in journalism. I walked away from the afternoon with a much clearer understanding of what it looks like and what it takes to be professional journalist.

When did you feel the most challenged and how did you meet that challenge?

I would say my most exciting, challenging assignment was when the politics editor sent the interns to cover protests at the state Capitol on opening day of the Texas legislature’s special session. I was nervous. I’d never covered anything remotely like a protest before. But the editor sent us out with assurances of “just follow your gut,” and he was right – once we were there, journalistic instincts to ask questions and find and tell the story took over. It was when I was weaving through the crowd at the Capitol, looking for protesters to interview while also doing my best to snap clear pictures and tweet concise updates, when I realized, “Wow, I’m a real journalist.” The experience was incomparable.

Did anything about the location of your internship really excite you, such as the food, architecture, outdoors?

I’ve never lived in a big city before (I’m from a very small town in Texas and Lexington isn’t exactly a metropolis), so everything about Austin has been exciting for me! There’s a variety of fun things I’ve enjoyed exploring here – iconic murals, cute coffee shops, kayaking excursions and, of course, all foods Tex-Mex!

Will this internship impact the direction of your career in any way?

After this summer, I would definitely consider a career in magazine journalism. At the most basic level, I’m drawn to the descriptive, feature-like style of magazine writing. It has been so interesting to learn about the behind-the-scenes collaboration between the editorial, art and production departments that goes into producing a top-notch magazine each month. I think it’s impossible to truly understand how any business functions without actually being immersed in it, so I am exceptionally grateful for this experience.

How did W&L help to prepare you for this opportunity?

I’ve definitely been challenged this summer, but W&L has equipped me to meet each of those challenges. So much of what I learned in my journalism classes and in conversations with my professors was applicable to the real-life experiences of my internship. And it wasn’t like W&L sent me off for the summer without any lifelines – at one point, I emailed my advisor, Professor Coddington, for advice on a story I was reporting for Texas Monthly’s website, and he immediately followed up with some excellent pointers.