A journalism internship is like a first date; it can be a horrendous nightmare you’d rather forget (think the unpaid internship complete with coffee runs, phone answering and no recognition) or the beginning of something great (gaining amazing experience, making valuable connections and most important of all, getting hired — yes, hired).
A journalism internship is like a first date; it can be a horrendous nightmare you’d rather forget (think the unpaid internship complete with coffee runs, phone answering and no recognition) or the beginning of something great (gaining amazing experience, making valuable connections and most important of all, getting hired — yes, hired). It’s quite possible that your journalism internship could turn into a career-starting job where you will get actual compensation— not just valuable experience, perks and connections—to do what you’ve been studying so diligently for. Not all internships turn into full-time employment, and I’m not saying that the ones that don’t fit into the nightmare category, along with the bad dates. I’ve done both paid and unpaid internships and have gained a lot of good from both — but there is just something so gratifying about seeing the numbers in your bank account, as if magically, climb a digit or two higher.
There are jobs out there for new journalists and J-Source has the proof. We talked to a six journalists whose internships landed them a job. Whether it is a three-month or three-year contract, on-air or online, these journalists know what it’s like and how to become an intern-turned-employee.
(For a quick hit of advice from all six of our intern-turned-employees, check this out.)
Lauren Pelley: from magazine mogul to on-air personality
Lauren Pelley, 23, always thought she would work for a magazine. She spent five years at Western University, studying international issues before completing her master’s of journalism all the while working for the student paper in various editor positions. She even spent her last year as the paper’s creative director. She has a lot of print experience and when it was time to choose her internship placement through Western, oddly enough she chose television.
“I always thought I’d work for a magazine or something,” says Pelley. “I did a TV internship to try it, I thought I might like it. So, I gave it a shot and now, over a year later, there’s nothing else I could see myself doing.”
She started her paid internship at CHCH in Hamilton on the writing desk. She said she was never treated like a typical intern; fetching coffee and running errands was not part of her job description. She was writing for CHCH’s all-day news show and was even put on camera during her first month. Her internship evolved into a part- time job; she started working on weekends during school and part-time during the summer. She says her internship was like a test. She must have passed with flying colours because now she is a part-time reporter, producer and writer for CHCH, but she says she works full-time hours.
“I had done a good job all the way through and made a good impression. It just gradually evolved — I got trained in more thing and I got hours until the place I am at now, where I feel like I’m an integral part of the station,” says Pelley.
Christie Roberts: sometimes getting the job isn’t the hard part — it’s afterward (especially if you’re freelancing)
Christie Roberts says that the best way to learn is just by doing it, and that’s exactly what she experienced when she interned at CTV News Channel.
“They just throw you in there and as an intern you can make mistakes and really get to know the job,” she says. “What other job will give you six weeks of good training? I had time to make silly mistakes and now I don’t make those mistakes anymore.”
The 22-year-old Ryerson journalism grad spent six weeks at CTV as a chase producer during her unpaid internship for school credit. Roberts had a lot of responsibility as an interning chase producer; at times it was difficult and stressful contacting guests for the different shows. Her duties are the same now that she has been hired as a freelancer.
“Most people I was working with had been interns before. The newsroom is filled with young 20-somethings,” says Roberts. “Unless you do a horrible job then they are pretty good about making sure you get freelance work after.”
Now, she gets a schedule every two weeks but it can be unpredictable. This week she works Sunday – Friday, fulltime, but last week she had no shifts.
“It’s very feast or famine — you’re working a lot or not very much,” she says. “They don’t have to guarantee you anything.”
Being a freelancer isn’t for everyone. Roberts doesn’t have benefits and doesn’t have the freedom to plan much (like a vacation) in advance.
“Freelancing — you’re either cut out for it or you’re not and I don’t think I am. I want something more stable. I’m hoping having this on my resume will get me a full time job that will have more stability.”
Regardless, Roberts appreciates her internship. She says she has gained “a thicker skin” and her writing and news sense has improved.
“It’s a feather in your cap to know you did a good enough job to get hired after. It’s a confidence booster,” she says.
Dale Carruthers: A job’s still a job — even three years later
Dale Carruthers spent a year after his undergrad selling the master’s of journalism program to prospective students at Western University as a university recruiter. He soon realized that he had sold it to himself.
“I think I fell in love with it before I even started but then I found out what it was all about and realized I still liked it,” he says.
He always knew he wanted to work for the London Free Press and chose to intern there for his one-month unpaid internship for school credit. The Free Press wasn’t hiring, so he spent the next three years freelancing for the Free Press and working at different papers including one in Fiji. Finally, there was an opening for a full-time job at the Free Press and Carruthers desperately wanted it. But his odds weren’t good: there were a lot of applicants and the paper hadn’t hired a full-time employee in eight years.
“That kind of freaked me out. I really wanted the job bad, it was like now or never — well not never, but at least another eight years,” he says. “I had to make it happen so I put a lot of work into my application and acted like I didn’t know anyone.”
He put his references together in a podcast and produced a video about why he was the right person for the job. It paid off and now Carruthers is a full-time, unionized multi-media journalist, on the crime beat, for the London Free Press.
Sarah Millar: even the most experienced journalist can still feel intimidated
Sarah Millar, 29 got her first taste of journalism at only 17 when she began writing for the Hamilton Spectator for a high school co-op. Since then, she has acquired quite the journalism resume by working for different publications such as: the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post, Sun Media and the Canadian University Press. She then got a one-year paid internship at the Toronto Star in September 2010 as a web editor writing for the website, managing the home page and using social media to report news.
“For the most part, at the Star, if you’re an intern you’re considered a regular employee,” she says. “Reporting interns travel. The year I interned some reporters went to Egypt and other places during the Arab Spring.”
When she had one month left of her internship she was told it was going to be extended for an additional four months and Millar eventually became the Star’s social media editor. Her contract was extended again, but she wanted a different challenge and try her hand at a start-up company, so she left the Star in November 2011 for OpenFile, where she is the social media and community editor.
Millar says that interns need to believe in themselves. After all, they’ve been hired for a reason.
“I had always wanted to work at the Star,” she says. “For the first little while I was like ‘I can’t believe I’m sitting in this newsroom,’ I was just waiting for them to come up to me and say ‘oh, actually we were wrong.’ But that didn’t happen. We don’t give ourselves the credit we deserve and you should be proud of your accomplishments and believe in yourself.”
Kyle McConnell: hard work is noticed. So is landing a job before graduation
Within a week of starting his internship, Kyle McConnell was switching live shows for The Weather Network in Oakville, Ont. The 25-year-old took the internship as an editor and switcher as part of the broadcast program at Sheridan College. Students must complete 160 hours of work before they graduate. McConnell not only fulfilled the requirements, he landed a job before graduation, too.
“I worked really hard at my internship,” he told J-Source via email. “I made sure to constantly take notes on everything I was shown, asked a lot of questions and came in everyday on time and with a positive attitude.”
At the end, his boss noticed his hard work and he was asked to interview for a potential job.
Now, McConnell works as a part-time as an on call switcher and editor for The Weather Network. He says his job has many duties, the same as during his internship. He spends half of his shift editing videos for broadcast and the other half in the control room during live broadcasts. Not only is he working the switchboard, he is controlling the show’s audio, cameras and is keeping constant track of the time, making sure the show stays at a certain length.
McConnell remembers the day that he was so nervous before his first live show as an intern.
“My hands were shaking, I was sweating and even felt a little nauseous,” he said.
But in the end, it all went well and he said it was “such a rush” and knowing that he played a crucial role in a live broadcast was “an unmatched feeling.”
“Even now, after having done dozens of shows, I still feel an immense amount of pride after each time,” McConnell said.
Alexander Brown: sacrifice pays off — literally
Alexander Brown knows the feeling of payoff. If you’re watching Breakfast Television in Winnipeg, you may see some of Brown’s work as a photojournalist for the morning show on City TV. He didn’t get there by fluke. Brown put in hard work, many hours and a lot of patience to get where he is now. Before his job at City, Brown worked for a small television station in Thunder Bay for three years. Before that, he was making some serious sacrifices.
After graduating from Sheridan College in 2008, the now-27-year-old volunteered 40 hours per week, for five months at Rogers TV in Barrie, Ont. — unpaid. He says he gained valuable experience while volunteering for Rogers, as he was able to work with cameras and editing equipment. The internship had its ups and downs, like any regular job. On one assignment Brown was sent out with a tough reporter who was not afraid to share her criticism. Either his shot was out of focus, not held for long enough or was just “off.”
“I had that first little bit of real criticism. It was intimidating at first, but you know, you learn from it,” says Brown.
But the days that he got to see his shots and edits on television was well worth it. For Brown, the experience paid off — literally.
“It allowed me to move into another position at another station and really be an asset right away.
Volunteering for that long and without pay would be difficult for anybody.
“I lost a lot of money, but I gained it back with the fact that I got a job pretty much right away,” he says. “I wasn’t working for five months after school, but I don’t know what I would have done without those five months of experience.”
(All photos were supplied, with the exception of Alexander Brown's, which was taken with permission off of the City TV website.)