For so many who have passed through the hallowed halls of PW ’s legendary intern program, it started—as it should—with a horse.
We received hundreds of internship applications every year—many good, a few exceptional, and a decent number that get hung up on the wall with the cringe-worthy bits circled in highlighter. Those who look like they might have the chops—or whose Facebook pages are unblocked and unembarrassing enough—get called in for an interview.
And then, before they come through our doors, we send them the horse video.
It started innocently enough. After hundreds of interviews with potential interns, I’d given the same spiel about our internship program so much that it was identical every time—word for word. As soon as I would launch into it, then-Editor-in-Chief Tim Whitaker would start cracking up, and the poor interviewee would just sit there helplessly not knowing whether to laugh as well. So we thought: Let’s record this and send it out ahead of time.
Our first thought: Burn it to a CD and mail it out. But no, too clunky and time consuming.
Then a new website popped up, and we realized it might be useful. The site was called YouTube.
But it’s boring to just film me sitting at a desk talking about fact-checking. So we got a horse up in Fairmount Park’s Belmont Plateau, and filmed me sitting on a horse. Talking about fact-checking. It’s still on YouTube.
Many of PW’s most recognizable bylines over the years started here as interns: Kia Gregory, Jessica Pressler, Cassidy Hartmann, Mike Newall—the list goes on for days.
But some of the most, um, memorable ones, you never heard about.
Here, we give you the best and worst of PW ’s internship program over the years—from our faulty memories, as well as the recollections of some all-star fact-checkers of years’ past.
Charles the Child Pornographer
To this day, Charles’ resume remains one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. (Note: Some names have been changed to protect the unpaid.) He started working in the early 2000s, shortly after I took the reins of the internship program over from Pressler, who had hired me as an intern. Charles was the best fact-checker we had—at the time, and for years after. A little awkward and quiet, but a real whiz on the Internet.
He was “on leave” for a semester from a local school; I never bothered to ask why. Could have, but it didn’t come up. It was great for us—meant he had more time to fact-check.
About six weeks into his internship, he got his first byline. Two days before the paper came out, he told me he couldn’t come to work because he had to go to court; I never bothered to ask why. Could have, but I assumed it was a traffic ticket.
The day after the paper came out, we got a call from a reporter at Philadelphia magazine, who had seen Charles’ byline. This reporter was an alum of the same school from which Charles was on leave, and he was curious to know if our intern Charles was the same individual who, at this school, had been arrested, charged with and admitted to hundreds of counts of child pornography.
We’ll have to check and call you back, we told Philly mag.
We Googled Charles for the first time, and yes, it was the same dude.
The paper you now hold in your hands, PW, has been around for 40 years—more or less. Like most media stories, it’s a bit more complicated than that. No matter the changes, though, there is a through line in the paper’s history: a renegade spirit and a determination to give voices to the voiceless.