To intern or not to intern?

Intern MugInternships are generally considered a standard part of a blossoming journalism career. Graduate, intern, get a job. This has been the progression for many j-school grads over the years. Some internships are paid, some aren’t. Some provide training and mentorship, many don’t.  Some grads say the experience is worth it, others avoid it like the plague.

As the popular website Stuff White People Like jokes in a post about unpaid internships:

“In most of the world when a person works long hours without pay, it is referred to as “slavery” or “forced labor”…If all goes according to plan, an internship will end with an offer of a job that pays $24,000 per year and will consist entirely of the same tasks they were recently doing for free. In fact, the transition to full time status results in the addition of only one new responsibility: feeling superior to the new interns.”

All joking aside, an internship can be a valuable learning experience, an important part of career development and a great way to make contacts and break into the industry. But this is not, of course, true of all internship programs and so it’s important to do your research, talk to as many people as you can and seek out the opportunity that will work best for you.

Whether you are eager to seek out a journalism internship or just want to scope out the options and opinions, the J-Source Students’ Lounge has a series of resources dedicated to interning.

This includes a compehensive list of Canadian internship opportunities as well as a growing list of available options in the U.S.

Knowing what’s out there is a good start, but its important to find out what the internship entails, how much actual reporting/writing/editing is involved and what other duties are expected. A great way to do this is to seek out previous interns and offer to buy them a coffee if you can ask them a few questions. Don’t be shy.

There is some controversy around the concept of unpaid (or low-paying) work for journalism graduates. A discussion recently erupted about this on DreamJob TK, a career advice blog for magazine editors run by Corinna vanGerwen, a senior editor at Style at Home. Some of the comments spurred vanGerwen to comment on the state of editorial talent coming through the door with resumes looking for jobs. She wrote:

“I’d like to suggest that perhaps our quality of interns would go up if we started paying them. I know, I know, tight budgets, can’t afford to, yada, yada. Working out budgets isn’t my job, but if we don’t spend the money on developing good editors, we won’t have any good applicants to hire, for both intern positions and entry-level editorial positions down the road. We owe it to the industry to ensure its future success by developing the editors we want to hire.”

However, despite the often grim pay situation, many internships are still competitive and it will take some hard work and preparation to make you and your resume stand out from the crowd. Masthead magazine has put together a guide to landing a dream internship. While the advice is aimed at aspiring magazine folks, many of the tips and techniques are relevant for those interested in breaking into other areas of journalism. 

And remember, use your time in journalism school to develop a portfolio. Whether your work is in print, online or recorded, potential employers will want to see what you’ve done.  Any journalistic work you produce during j-school (whether course work or outside assignments) will make up your portfolio, so its important to treat every item as if it were your masterpiece.

(Photo by Somewhat Frank. Reprinted under Creative Commons license)