For Jake Banas, the month of January was all about journalism.
The Keuka College sophomore and Delmar resident spent most of the month writing for The Spotlight, an independent news organization headquartered in his hometown, near Albany. Spotlight News produces five weekly editions in Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga counties, with a combined circulation of more than 45,000, according to its website.
Each Keuka undergrad conducts a 140-hour internship, known as Field Period, every year en route to a bachelor’s degree. An English major, Banas had begun to write for the Keukonian, the student newspaper at Keuka, and decided to learn more about journalism by pursuing an internship with his hometown paper.
Banas started by proofing pages for grammatical errors before the paper went to press for a Thursday distribution. From there, he began writing short event announcements submitted by local organizations, and gradually worked his way into full-scale, bylined articles—transitioning from shadowing reporters to being a reporter himself.
“The first day I walked in, everything was very hectic, because it was a Wednesday and they were trying to finalize the paper and get it out [the next day]. People were yelling back and forth and I was kind of scared, not sure what was happening,” Banas said. “The next day it was all quiet because everyone was out doing assignments and getting ready for the next issue.”
His first major assignment was an interview with the owner of the Junk King garbage removal company for the paper’s regular “Spotlight on Business” feature. Other assignments found Banas at the local school district board of education meeting, or taking hundreds of photos of different town locales. As each article went into print, Banas said it was “incredible” to have something he wrote published. Most of his work ran in the Bethlehem Spotlight, he said, while a few articles ran in other editions.
“There’s a lot more to journalism than people think. I expected it to be so simple, [thinking] you just hear a story and write about it but I learned you want to keep your ears open for specific things,” Banas said. “You have to go out and work with people and gather information and there’s a lot more to take away from it than just sitting there, writing the news.”
Banas faced a bit of a learning curve, he said, when it came to writing articles in what is known as “AP style,” which stands for the Associated Press stylebook, considered the gold standard of news publishing.
“I was pretty much expected to use that style and I hadn’t ever known it, so I had this big AP stylebook next to me and that was my ‘bible’ for the first week or so,” he recalled.
Banas said that in the course of interviewing several sources, he learned to conquer a personal—and perhaps generational – fear: talking on the phone.
“Personally, I’d much rather send a text or an email, or sit down face-to-face rather than call someone. This helped me get a lot more comfortable making a phone call to someone I’ve never met.”
An English major, Banas conducted a Field Period a year ago at a middle school, shadowing English teachers, which did not create the excitement he’d anticipated.
“When I decided to be an English major, it was mostly because I like writing and I like words. But with my Field Period, I’m trying to figure out my future – where I can go and what I can do. With teaching, it’s teaching how things work and how it fits together and stuff. With journalism, it’s more about blending your creative ability to write a story with facts that are correct and also interesting, all at the same time,” Banas said, noting finding that balance can be a challenge.
“Learning how to write in different formats and for different purposes is one thing I’ll take away from this. But I’ve also learned a lot about communicating in general,” he said.
Executive Editor Charles Wiff served as his site supervisor, and offered him the opportunity to choose his own topic for a 700-word point-of-view article. Banas decided to share his personal experience dealing with homesickness, offering advice to college freshmen or transfers on how best to deal with it. That article ran in all five editions of the paper.
His first-person narrative was later requested for reprint by a statewide organization representing independent colleges and universities for its newsletter, which is mailed to high school and college students.
“It would be crazy to have something like that in my portfolio as a sophomore,” Banas said. “I think the connections I’ve been able to make here have been incredible. It’s really awesome to have done this.”