TV news grabs student intern


Photo by Rick Reinhard


“I’m sitting here as proof that sometimes things just happen,” said Tracy Leeds (C’00). “I had no idea in May that I’d be sitting here talking to you as a full-time employee.” A desk assistant at ABC headquarters in Washington, D.C., Leeds works behind the scenes for news shows like “World News Tonight” and “Nightline.”

Leeds, who is an American history major, began at ABC as a summer intern under the aegis of the University’s Washington Semester Program, working with media moguls Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts on “This Week.”

To her merit, she got her foot in the door without having any contacts at the network. “I knew I wanted to work in media. Honestly, I just sent over a resume and cover letter and they saw something they liked. ... I did a couple of phone interviews and got offered [the internship],” said Leeds.

That offer led to a full-time job as a desk assistant and a stint as assistant to the executive producer for “This Week.”

Leeds’ experience was a little unusual, said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, Ph.D., the program’s new associate director based in Washington, in that she came down and worked in the summer. Most internships started after Labor Day.

Students enrolled in the Washington Semester Program find their own internships, with the program’s offices providing ideas or giving information about prior Penn internships. Then students make the calls and work out the arrangements with the employer, just as Leeds did with ABC News. “Internships often lead to work,” Tenpas said.

About 20 students enroll each semester, according to Tenpas, and the program is fully enrolled for fall 2000. Some of the other internships Washington Semester students found this term include work with the Bill Bradley campaign and with Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.); writing speeches for a think tank, the American Enterprise Institute; and working for the Wexler Group, a prominent lobbying organization.

Leeds loves working at ABC.

“It’s a great working environment. Everyone is so open and willing to talk to you. I’m sitting there with Andrea McCarren, who’s the White House correspondent, and we were just doing girl talk, and I’m like, ‘This is someone that I watch on the news all the time.’”

Leeds doesn’t just fraternize with media personalities, however. She also helps determine which stories to cover and which news crew to send out; and she conducts research and serves as a gofer for correspondents on location.

On top of working about 50 hours each week, Leeds takes two classes and an independent study course. As the only student employee, she credits her network coworkers as being extremely supportive of her academic efforts. “When there isn’t Egypt Air or anything like that, it can be really quiet and they let me sit there with my homework. ... My independent research paper [is] on the media, and everyone’s been so open to me, asking questions and giving interviews.”

Though she currently doesn’t have much time for other interests, Leeds is a second-year member of the board of Quadramics Theater Company at Penn as an alumni representative. She has been involved with tech work, building sets, producing, and acting in several theater shows. She plans to return to West Philadelphia in the spring to complete her final semester of college.

Leeds hopes to continue working for ABC after graduation but isn’t sure if she wants to go to New York or return to Washington. She said she would not mind being in front of the camera if the opportunity arose, but would rather produce the shows.

Leeds admits she’s going to miss the exciting atmosphere of the network. She plans to remain in D.C. through the millennium, working on ABC’s 48-hour coverage of the event. “As much as I would love to have that once-in-a-lifetime party out with friends, it’s also going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I just know it’s going to be absolutely incredible working here. I told them I’d like to come in a gown and maybe a tiara.”

Originally published on December 2, 1999