What I Learned at PolicyMic That J-School Never Taught Me


I got my things together, made a round of good-byes, took the elevator down nine floors and walked out of the office building with my fist in the air, John Bender-style. I'm usually not one for overt emotions, but as I left PolicyMic's Manhattan office for the last time this summer, I couldn't help but think about how much I had learned. It's terribly corny to reflect, but it's also terribly important, especially as you continue to write for this site, or any site, for that matter.

I'm a rising junior at Northwestern University, and I'm studying at the's Medill School of Journalism. Northwestern is one of the few colleges that offers a separate school for journalism and integrated marketing communications, and its proximity to Chicago makes it well equipped to handle aspiring media types. Medill is particularly famous for its prestigious alumni, and for the "Medill F," a policy in which a single factual error in a story will result in a failing grade. As one might expect, there's a culture of stringent professionalism at Medill, and I've loved every second of it.

Which is why I was a bit surprised when I became an intern at PolicyMic in June. Most of my friends have never written a story with a search-engine-optimized headline. They were working at lofty magazines and three-letter news stations while I was at a start-up that doesn't ask writers to do much, if any, original reporting. I write for a half-dozen publications at school, and PolicyMic looked decidedly different from anything else I'd done or learned in lecture.

Now, eight weeks later, I walk away as a considerably more versatile writer. Much of that has come from broadening my subject matter. At school, I was the sports editor of a school paper, and I do football and basketball beat reporting for Scout.com. Over the past two months, however, I've written about underground Brooklyn hip hop, Anthony Weiner, Guantanamo Bay, a gay country singer, and local comedy clubs, to name a few things.

More importantly, I've become more versatile in how I approach journalism. By following the PolicyMic mantra and engaging in debate, I've learned a lot about humility and audience that they don't teach you in journalism school.

Journalism students are trained to function as purveyors of professionalism and proprietors of information. Our perspective, as journalists, is supposed to be intelligent and informed, and ultimately become the final say. Newsprint and broadcast stations don't have a comment section, nor do many popular online publications. But at PolicyMic, you can learn something important about the way journalism is changing in the social media era; debate is not only inevitable, it's encouraged. Journalists aren't just names that serve you news. As PolicyMic's interface points out, they're both allies and rivals. Working with PolicyMic has shown me how successfully Internet culture can interact with traditional writing. After all, it's important to find a publication reputable, but it's just as important to feel welcomed by it.

As I finish my internship, I can't help but think that PolicyMic is helping to lead the charge for inclusive 21st-century media and engaging journalism. Those writing for the site should realize that the opportunity PolicyMic provides for discourse between writers and readers is extremely rare, and those casually reading PolicyMic should consider joining the team, to improve their writing skills while exploring the role of social media in journalism. In a month, I'll go back to the Medill I love, and return to a culture where the roles of reporter and audience are more defined. But for now, I'll throw someone a Mic, and hit someone else with a comment. That's what's really made sense to me, and six million other monthly users, this summer.