Student interns Katharine Cusick (left) and Lauren Witonsky at the end of their internship in 2013. Both were Anna Fisher Clark interns, funded by an endowment held by the Chestnut Hill Community Fund.

by Sarah Alessandrini

Allison Steele, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, has worked hard to get where she is today, but her first real taste of print journalism was as an Anna Fisher Clark intern at the Chestnut Hill Local in 2000.

“I needed an experience beyond what I had been doing before,” said Steele, who at the time was a rising college sophomore majoring in journalism at New York University. “I had more informal internships in high school and I had taken journalism classes, but at some point, you need to start publishing in real publications.”

Steele went on to work for several newspapers before the Inquirer. After college, she spent five years at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. During her first year and a half, she covered eight small communities in New Hampshire. Steele said that her internship at the Local served as “a good primer for me covering small communities.”

“I would say [this internship] gave me an interesting glimpse into the problems that the journalism industry was starting to grapple with,” Steele said. “There was already starting to be some concerns about readership and how we hold on to people. This was an interesting glimpse into how publications attract new readers while holding on to existing ones.”

Each spring, the Local offers paid summer internships to high school and college students. The students selected from both public and private high schools and colleges, are given a rare, hands-on experience to work and write for a real newspaper.

This internship is made possible by the Anna Fisher Clark Memorial Fund.

In 1990, the family of Anna Fisher Clark set up a memorial fund in her name to benefit the community she had loved so fondly. Since then, the Anna Fisher Clark Memorial Fund has benefited the Chestnut Hill Community through supporting the young interns at the Chestnut Hill Local.

The internship is open to both college and high school students and remains one of the few paid working journalism internships available to high school students – some as young as 15. Students work alongside Local staff members and on their own; pitching story ideas, interviewing news subjects, writing stories and creating social media, email and web pages for the Local, and Welcome magazine. Students are given the opportunity to shape their intern experience by formulating their future goals and planning what their summer experience can do to prepare them.

Anna Fisher Clark was born in Britain, according to her son Dr. Hugh Clark, but her mother was from Chestnut Hill. Clark, a debutante, had her debut in London before her family sent her back to America to make her debut in Philadelphia. She married Dr. Tom Clark, an old-line Philadelphian, and they settled in the Philadelphia area.

Mrs. Clark had been a resident of Chestnut Hill for 47 years before she died on May 20, 1989. When Mrs. Clark died in 1989, her husband and children decided to dedicate the memorial fund in her name.

“My father made it very plain that what he wanted the fund to support was an intern at the Local,” said Dr. Clark. According to her son, Mrs. Clark had developed a long standing affinity for the Chestnut Hill Local, which at the time was run by a woman named Marie Jones. Clark admired Jones for her commitment to running an honest newspaper and for resisting pressures from Chestnut Hill merchants to use the paper as a booster for their businesses. Mrs. Clark always backed Jones and the Local, because “she was a rebel,” said Dr. Clark.

“We’re delighted as a family to be able to support this opportunity for students to experience journalism. It’s something that I know my mother, wherever her spirit lies, is very pleased by.”

The Anna Fisher Clark Memorial Fund, administered by the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, has provided stipends for Local interns each year since the initial agreement was made. The initial fund was about $40 thousand, according to Jean Hemphill, former President of the Chestnut Hill Community Association. The income of the fund each year has supported the Local interns.

Steele is just one of many former interns who have gone on to excel in their careers. Adam Garnick, who once worked at the Treasury Department and one semester worked at the Scottish Parliament, said interning at the Local was “the coolest experience I’ve had.”

Inquirer crime reporter Allison Steele leads a workshop entitled “Crime Reporting: Asking the Questions” at Germantown Friends School’s Third Annual High School Journalism Conference. (Photo by Laura Jamieson)

“It was the most autonomy I’ve ever been given and at a relatively young age,” said Garnick. “I had so much responsibility and so much flexibility, and that’s pretty rare for an internship.”

Garnick was a rising senior at Penn Charter and editor-in-chief of his school paper the summer he interned at the Local. He said that one of his favorite experiences he remembers from his internship was writing an Op-Ed each week.

“That was a huge development experience for me and gave me a ton of confidence,” he said. “Not a lot of people can say they’ve done that at a young age.”

Garnick spent two years after college teaching history in Dallas, Texas for a program called Teach for America. He then spent a year in Budapest, Hungary teaching English at a University for a program called Fulbright. He’s now back in Philadelphia and will be starting law school at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I still look at the Local internship as a great first step in a good and long career,” said Garnick. “I can’t overstress how much that internship gave me confidence. I remember looking back and thinking ‘wow, my voice matters.”’

Zoe Feingold was also a 2010 summer intern who at the time was a rising senior at Germantown Friends.

“Getting stuff published in the paper was exciting, especially in high school,” said Feingold. She was working for her school paper at the time when she reached out to the Local to see if they offered summer internships. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut and is now a Doctoral student in clinical psychology at Fordham University in New York City.

“Some things that stood out to me were stories about particular people,” said Feingold. “I learned a lot about how to interview people, how to get the most out of an interview, and how to create a compelling story about an individual.”

Madeleine Wattenburger, another Germantown Friends alum, is now a freelance writer living in Mexico City. She interned for the Local in 2011 after hearing about the internship through GFS.

“At the time I thought that journalism was something I was interested in pursuing, so I thought that would be a great opportunity to learn about what it’s like to work on a real paper,” said Wattenburger. The internship at the Local helped Wattenburger to strengthen her skills in reporting and communications. She said she learned to overcome anxieties about interviewing and talking to people over the phone. Her favorite part of the internship, she said, was getting to meet new people and write about them.

“I love that about journalism,” she said. “Getting to know different aspects of the community and being able to share people’s stories.” Wattenburger graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Urban Studies. She said that the Local internship was valuable in helping to feed her love for writing.

Lauren Witonsky was an intern in 2013 going into her senior year at now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Although she now works as a Social Media Assistant for a Health Magazine, her interest at the time was fashion. When she heard about the internship at the Local, she thought it would be a great opportunity to explore the world of publication and media.

“I learned how to approach stories from a unique angle,” said Witonsky. “Today when you’re posting on social media, people are so quick to click out of something. You really have to think about what’s going to grab readers’ attention and keep them engaged.”

Witonsky said that one of the biggest challenges during her internship was coming up with story ideas.

“My favorite story to write was about the boxes at the Weavers Way Coop,” she said.  Witonsky said that there were already a lot of stories written about the Weavers Way Coop, and she wanted to find something new to write about. When she saw all the cardboard boxes sitting around at Weavers, she did some investigating and wrote a piece about how the Coop was recycling boxes by leaving them for the customers to use.

Witonsky said that writing for the Local “definitely kick-started” her love for writing and storytelling. She graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in advertising.

Today, the Anna Fisher Clark Memorial Fund still continues to benefit interns at the Local, providing a rare and valuable opportunity for young students to receive a hands-on experience in local journalism.

Christina Grierson, one of this summer’s Anna Fisher Clark interns, is a rising senior studying journalism at St. John’s University in New York.

“I’ve had a very hands-on and insightful experience at the Local,” she said. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to actually seek out and write my own stories rather than do tedious busy work unrelated to journalism.”

Grierson applied for the internship shortly after returning from a semester abroad in England. Although her focus is on broadcast journalism, Greirson said she was seeking an opportunity to strengthen her skills in writing and to experience print media. A native of Mt. Airy, Grierson had always been familiar with the Local and was happy to learn that the paper offered internships.

“This internship has essentially strengthened my journalism skills while also helping me to build my portfolio of print work,” she said. “I knew that interning with the Local would help me learn more about my craft.”

Sarah Alessandrini is an Anna Fisher Clark intern at the Local this summer. She will be a senior at Mt. St. Joseph Academy this fall.