Daniel Wheaton spent his 10-week summer working on one 2,000-word story. And he loved every minute of it.
The senior journalism major was an investigative intern at Newsday this summer. He credits the classes he took at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications with helping him get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Wheaton took classes on investigative reporting and data analysis with journalism professor and Pulitzer Prize winner Matt Waite. These classes shaped Wheaton’s future in journalism – making it clear to him that he was meant to do data journalism.
He became a constant at Maker Hours – Friday afternoons students meet in the basement of Andersen Hall to work on or play with whatever technology is interesting to them.
Wheaton worked on an app that could pull the tweets happening around campus and Lincoln to find trends in what people were talking about. He used this app as the Online News editor at the Daily Nebraskan, the student newspaper, to figure out what events the DN should cover.
It was his work on this app that impressed the Newsday editors and ultimately got him the internship, where he spent most of his 10 weeks analyzing a lot of data.
At Newsday, Wheaton investigated the corruption behind the Nassau County, New York, tax exemption. He spent the summer analyzing all the data and talking to dozens of people to determine the effect the exemption is having on the community. The results he found showed that the wealthy are paying private firms to get them the exemptions, while the poor are paying more. All the while, the firms are getting rich providing a service the government is supposed to be providing.
Before Newsday, Wheaton interned with the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C. This experience gave him the opportunity to select the topics he wanted to write on. He started by picking from the Washington daybook, which lists the events happening that day, but while covering a routine event he noticed a bigger story idea – the Highway Trust Fund.
This issue almost shutdown the government. While attending Obama’s speech at the Turner Fairway Center, Wheaton saw the potential for a bigger story. So he spent two weeks researching at the center and ended up creating a six-part multimedia project.
“Washington, D.C., is a cut-throat town,” Wheaton said. “Everyone is eyeing you as the new guy. You have to be able to figure out how you’re going to stand out, what your story is going to be. My experience in investigative reporting prepared me for this project.”
Wheaton credits the journalism faculty with preparing him for his internships, as well as helping him secure them. He says it’s all about networking – networking with professors and networking with professionals.
“I would have never ended up on this path without the support of the journalism faculty,” Wheaton said. “Networking with professors was how I got the Scripps Howard internships and the Newsday internships. Faculty can be your greatest resource if you make an effort to reach out to them.”
Wheaton’s biggest piece of advice for students is to figure out what you love and hone your skills.
“Find out what you excel in, what you enjoy and hone those skills,” he said. “The CoJMC offers classes in just about everything. You’re far more interesting to employers if you can find a specialty and the faculty at the CoJMC want to help you find that. Let them.”