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COLUMN ONE

It's Web 101 for this experienced intern

Lois Draegin, 55, lost a six-figure editing job. She now works unpaid for a start-up website, trading her knowledge for new online skills.

March 06, 2009|Geraldine Baum

In the past, she hadn't bothered to learn such skills as writing tags and URLs because she was paid to think globally about the direction of her magazine. Now she had to think globally not only about each topic but about every word she wrote in the URL, headline, subhead, tag and links in the story.

Everything had to be crafted to draw readers.

"It's really a challenge to do all of that at once," Draegin said.

Leaning back and crossing her arms thoughtfully during a break, she admitted that her mind sometimes wandered. "I find myself wanting to turn my head to what would be good for the website overall -- what kind of writers, kinds of new columns. That's just what I'm used to."

But a daunting task that lay ahead snapped her back to the keyboard: She had to transfer eight babies' mug shots from an NBC video to her story. She still hadn't successfully done a screen grab (saving a Web page as an image).

After several attempts, she splayed her fingers, the nails unpolished, flat on the keys in frustration: "Hey Randi, I have no idea how to get these pictures onto my story." Draegin's lean frame slumped back from the computer.

She and her younger mentor were a study in contrasts. Draegin, who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side and summers in one of Long Island's vacation colonies, was dressed simply, wearing no makeup, short brown hair, a lavender suede shirt and black pants. Bernfeld, who commutes to work from Long Island, where she grew up, wore thick black eyeliner, long blond hair with dark roots and a stylish short dress that looked like an oversized gray sweater.

Seconds after Draegin's cry for help, Bernfeld's fingers, the nails sparkling with polish, were flying across the intern's laptop, and eight pinched little faces appeared on the page next to the story.

The 2007 University of Florida graduate also had to remind the 1975 Washington University graduate to scroll through Google Trends before she wrote the tag and headline.

"She took a whole course in this in college," Draegin said with a deep sigh. "And to think, I took European intellectual history."

At one point, Evans stopped by Draegin's desk and asked: "How's our intern?"

Draegin plucked off her glasses and said with a smile, "Surviving!"

Later, Evans boasted that Draegin was, not surprisingly, a fast learner.

"She was so excited that by her second day she wrote a news story that was a big hit," said Evans, explaining that Draegin's first story received 200 clicks by viewers, whereas her second drew 5,000.

As for what Draegin has done for the site beyond writing a few briefs every morning, well, perhaps that's not as obvious. But there are moments. Like during a discussion of the Israeli elections, Draegin discreetly corrected the pronunciation of a younger staffer who referred to the current foreign minister as "Tipsy Livni."

"Yeah, we really should do a story on Tzipi," Draegin said pointedly. "She's really a wowOwow woman!"

Draegin has definitely found her internship beneficial in ways she hadn't expected. While she has long been proficient on Facebook and LinkedIn and has owned a Kindle for more than a year, working at WOW has revved up her interests in the online world. She now tags and pokes and occasionally writes on somebody's wall. She is considering Twittering -- just for the fun of it.

Draegin also corresponds regularly on Facebook with her 20-year-old niece, who is still in college and preparing to launch her own career. Shortly after Draegin landed the WOW gig, she used Facebook to tell her the good news. Her niece responded with a message that made her overqualified aunt giggle:

Now they both had internships.

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geraldine.baum@latimes.com

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latimes.com/columnone

Previous Column One articles are available online.

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