Fellowship strengthens McDermott’s interest in journalism

Matthew McDermott ’19 plans to become a journalist after graduation, and this summer he gained essential skills through his Cornell Fellowship.

Matthew McDermott '19
Matthew McDermott ’19

McDermott was the Mansfield Fellow in Investigative Reporting at The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism or IowaWatch in Iowa City. The organization works to support non-partisan investigative journalism and collaborates with larger newspapers across the state, such as the Des Moines Register and The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.

“With the exception of not being in New York City, this really is the internship of my dreams,” McDermott wrote in his Fellowship blog.

The Cornell senior from Wisconsin focused on three projects during his eight-week internship, a news quiz, an interview with an Iowa journalist of his choice, and a capstone project to produce a full-length news story.

“My capstone focused on political discourse in Iowa,” McDermott said. “I went to three separate counties. One that voted for Donald Trump, Van Buren County; one that voted for Hillary Clinton, Johnson County; and another that was a tie, Jefferson County. I interviewed more than 50 people and wrote three drafts before the final edition was completed.”

The English and creative writing major interviewed community members and party representatives. He learned the hard way that he needed to step outside of his comfort zone to get what he needed for his story.

“This internship taught me a lot about what it really takes to be a thorough and respectable journalist,” McDermott said. “You need to be so careful that all information collected is accurate and fact-based. Furthermore, being aggressive but polite is another crucial element of journalism. I had never been addressed as rudely as I was by certain people I tried to interview. Handling disrespectful people in a professional way was one of the greatest lessons that I learned.”

McDermott says his final story “Civil discourse deferred when it comes to politics in caucus state Iowa” was published in eight newspapers, including The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette and the Des Moines Register. He’s proud of the hard work he put into his story and knows Cornell prepared him to succeed.

“Cornell’s English Department has always put its students and their goals first,” McDermott said. “I found out about IowaWatch through Cornell when I was a first-year student and although I was told to wait until my senior year to apply for the internship, Cornell has continued to foster my love for the language arts and my ambition for journalism. I would have never known about IowaWatch had it not been for Cornell.”

Now, he’s looking forward to graduation and the day when he can take on a full-time role as a newspaper reporter.

Cornell Fellows is the college’s premier opportunity for high-level internships and professional mentoring, organized by the Berry Career Institute. Approximately 20–25 students participate in fellowships across the United States and internationally each year. Cornell Fellows are engaged in hands-on projects throughout the eight-week fellowship, complete at least one academic credit, and receive financial support to offset costs associated with housing, transportation, food, and supplies. Students can apply for opportunities at existing Cornell Fellows sites or request funding to support an internship at a new site that they propose.