Sunday, November 2, 2008

Intern Deserves Better Coaching

Interning reporter Samantha Williamson has covered many DeSoto Sun beats lately, but she seems to get little coaching or mentoring along the way. There’s no evidence she’s checking and double checking her stories or doing background research. The latest free-wheeling free ad she writes – apparently with the blessings of three – or is it four? – “editors,” “assistant editors,” “city editors,” and “news editors” is yesterday’s headline: Home care service helps elder ‘angels.’

The tyro reporter either failed to search Florida’s Department of State on-line records for this corporation’s status, or deemed the result of her records search irrelevant. A quick spin through the database shows Florida “administratively dissolved” the firm in question, Precious Angels Home Care Service, back in September for failure to file its 2008 annual report with the state. The same fate seems to have been dealt the owner’s sideline business, Bunker Babes Goat Farm, at the same address (a rural mobile home).

The young reporter fails to tell readers anything about the owner’s background, education or training that qualifies her to care for elderly clients. An on-line check of licensed health-care workers finds the owner is a certified nursing assistant – a designation the state limits to practicing under “direct nursing supervision” and only for tasks “of a routine, repetitive nature” and which “shall not require the CNA to exercise nursing knowledge, judgment, or skill,” according to Florida Board of Nursing literature.

The newspaper intern reports the firm has “locations” in Port Charlotte, but there’s no listing in that area's current telephone book under that name in the white pages, yellow pages, or “business blue” pages.

The newspaper intern failed to note whether the firm is a franchise operation (nothing wrong with that), because there are scores of businesses using the Precious Angels name across the land. (Most seem to be child-related, and the name evokes the title of a best-selling true-crime story about a mother who murders her children.)

So, questions abound – and the young reporter is not being coached to address them before she hits the send key. Here are just the first ten or so that pop into the skeptical, fact-checking mind of a reader who sincerely hopes this young professional can be encouraged to do better:

--Is this firm working as a brokerage or referral center, or does the owner herself provide assisted living services?
--How many employees or “names in the Rolodex” are involved?
--What’s the price range of services?
--What’s with this “inactive” status for its business license and the “administratively dissolved” issue with the state?
--Is the firm insured and bonded?
--The owner says her “caregivers” are drug tested and undergo background checks – but what about her “companions,” “homemakers,” and “shoppers” who provide the non-medical services? Drug tests and background checks are fairly pricey – how many has she conducted so far?
-- How does the owner deliver “customized services” in hospitals, assisted-living facilities and nursing homes, which are usually pretty careful and who practices “care giving” within their walls and are wary of non-family visitors?
--Is the service registered with the state's Department of Elder Affairs?
--Given the new level of concern for patient privacy, how does the owner deal with the contents of her client’s medical history?
-- How does she handle “medication reminders,” which sounds a lot like direct nursing?
-- Does the owner provide emergency medical equipment when she “helps with transportation to medical appointments?” Portable defibrillators? Oxygen? CPR? Wheelchair accessible vans?


  1. These are excellent questions. Traditionally at SCMG, interns receive no mentoring. They are expected to grasp whatever knowledge they can from anyone they deem in the know. The intern is a paid position (sometimes they receive more than SCMG employees) yet they are not trained or guided in any way. There is no structured guidance from the editors. SCMG standard operating procedure is to slap stories together ASAP to fill a hole; whether the story is written by an intern or veteran is in their view immaterial. Sadly, interns learn here that they don't need to improve.

  2. A Disgrace
    It has been 23 years since my internship in journalism.
    I'm certain there are hundreds of interns across the country that, each year, receive excellent training from qualified caring professional journalists.
    Pros realize that interns are like our children. They will be our professional legacies. It is a duty to teach them as much as possible about the realities of journalism and give them some of the skills they will need to begin their careers.
    I'm posting to your site for the first time.
    I've decided to do so, because it is an outrage to see first hand, interns, who often times walk in with more raw talent than some current reporters, fail to get the first good experience in journalism they deserve.
    Some of these students could take the summer off if they chose to, but they choose to work in their first newsroom.
    If you are an editor who disgraces him or herself by not helping lead these interns, well, at least have the decency, as the old saying goes, to get the hell out of the way, so others can.
    Damn, at least in Japan incompetent leaders and editors have the courage to fall on their swords.