(Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of stories about students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications completing summer internships.)
Growing up in Beaver County, Emily Kohlman had limited access to the news. She didn’t have cable, and so she always craved to learn more about what was going on in the world around her.
“And then, I think it’s just I realized one day, I’m really curious and I want to tell these stories,” Kohlman said. “For me, because I came from that situation, I wanted to be able to look at media literacy, and help people better understand what real journalism is and where to go for factual information.”
Kohlman graduated from Penn State in May with degrees in journalism and Russian.
Through the Fulbright Program, Kohlman will complete an English Teaching Assistantship in the Czech Republic in 2018-19. There, she will teach English to high school students while implementing a journalism and media literacy program.
Before leaving the country for 10 months, though, Kohlman wanted to be sure to get an internship for the summer in journalism. She ended up landing one with “Reliable Sources,” a CNN show produced in New York City.
The show has a small production team and she’s the only intern, which means she gets to work closely with the producers and the host, Brian Stelter.
“This is like the perfect internship — ‘Reliable Sources’ in particular — because the show is all about media literacy, so it’s right up my alley,” Kohlman said. “I’m just really excited that it worked out. Brian Stelter is the perfect person to learn from before going over to the Czech Republic and teaching media literacy.”
In addition to his Sunday show dedicated to examining the news industry, Stelter is also known for his nightly newsletter providing a snapshot of the latest happenings in the media. Kohlman is expected to pitch ideas in daily meetings, where the team decides which topics to cover and guests to have on Sunday’s show, and she also contributes to the nightly newsletter.
A couple weeks into Kohlman’s internship, Stelter asked her to co-write an article on the implications of limited media access to immigration detention centers – an idea she had suggested. The article was on the front page of CNN.com and was referenced in multiple media newsletters – including Stelter’s – the next day.
Throughout the week she’s responsible for creating graphics, editing together montages and cutting clips of other news outlet’s coverage of stories. Kohlman said she loves the collaborative atmosphere and said her supervisor is very encouraging for her to try new things.
“What’s really neat about this CNN internship, at least at the New York bureau, is that we’re encouraged by everyone to, while we’re at work, go to another show and sit in on that show and introduce ourselves to people,” Kohlman said. “They want us to branch out.”
While sitting in on a newer CNN show called “The Van Jones Show,” Kohlman got the chance to see Seth Meyers. She is hoping to meet Anderson Cooper while interning with CNN, as she wants to take advantage of every opportunity she has this summer to learn from and connect with some of the biggest names in journalism.
“I think the best part about the internship so far is that everybody is willing and so excited to talk to you and show you what they do, and everyone is so passionate about what it is that they’re doing,” Kohlman said. “It’s really good energy to be around. It’s always great whenever you have this dream internship and everyone around you is happy, so it’s like ‘Wow, they love what they’re doing,’ and that’s awesome.”
Kohlman said she has had several prior internships and experiences that helped prepare her for this internship with CNN. In the fall of 2016 through the Stanley E. Degler Washington Program, she interned with the U.S. correspondent for Czech Television during the election season where she got the chance to pitch story ideas, set up interviews and do a lot of political research.
In the summer of 2016, she interned with the Beaver County Times through Calkins Media. At that time, she was focused on the broadcast side of journalism and so they encouraged her to create several video productions in addition to pitching and putting together written stories.
“That really helped prepare me for this because I’m tapping into similar skills,” Kohlman said. “It’s really good to have these experiences and internships that allow you to experiment with different things. Those two internships in particular I had good supervisors that were open to suggestions, and when I wanted to learn something new, they were like, go for it. Now, I’m here at CNN, this is like a dream internship, and I have these different skills to apply.”
Russ Eshleman, head of the Department of Journalism in Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, taught Kohlman in 2016 when he took students to the two different national conventions as part of a class. Kohlman covered the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, for McClatchy and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. While there, she wrote several stories, including one about millennial political engagement.
“She did a great job out there … and she just really did a very nice story,” Eshleman said. “As a student, she was a tenacious fact-gatherer and a great reporter. She always did her homework. She always did good, solid reporting.”
After her internship and Fulbright experience, Kohlman’s dream job is to be a foreign correspondent in Eastern Europe, preferably in Russia.
“I want to be able to use my Russian and my reporting skills and tell stories that people wouldn’t hear about otherwise,” Kohlman said. “I think it’s really important to understand what’s going on in the rest of the world, and it really opens up your worldview.”