Interning at Brutal World Inc.

Laura Stone

Laura Stone“Man, I feel bad for your class. Not a good time to be graduating from j-school.”

So began an email I received the other day from a former co-worker and fellow j-schooler, who finished her degree in 2008.

What a difference a year makes.

Journalism internships just aren’t what they used be. Not even close.
This year, amid cutbacks, layoffs, and general economic
uncertainty, internships have suffered; they’ve suffered a lot.

It’s a shame. “I think internships are vital,” said Chris Lackner,
an arts editor at Canwest News Service, who parlayed various internship
programs and one-year contracts into
full-time work three years after graduation.

Here’s a rundown of the changes in summer internships, off the top of my head (feel free to comment if you’ve heard more):

  • Hamilton Spectator: axed
  • Chronicle Herald: axed (as well as two dozen jobs)
  • Canwest News Service: axed
  • Toronto Star: cut back to five interns and 10 weeks (as opposed to a full, four-month summer)
  • Ottawa Citizen: uncertain
  • Canadian Press: uncertain, but expected to hire.

As if competition were not fierce enough, now there are fewer internships to contend for, leaving us students—especially the
graduating ones—feeling a touch on the anxious side.

Plus, a recent column in The Globe and Mail pointed to the new trend of not only unpaid internships—but those you actually have to pay to do.
But if there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, it leads to a place we don’t yet know exists.

“It is a tough market, getting into the newspaper business right now,”
said Gerry Nott, the editor-in-chief at Canwest News Service. “Anybody
who has ambitions for traditional print journalism jobs, I don’t think
they exist anymore.”

He should know: the summer internship at Canwest was cut a few days after we met with Nott.

Katrina Onstad, a freelance writer and author whose works have appeared
in The New York Times, Toronto Life, and Elle, said that, despite tough
times, having a multitude of skills will help in the long run. (Just
don’t expect a full-time magazine writing gig.)

“I wish you guys the best. I think it’s a brutal industry,” she said.
“It’s very difficult to be optimistic about the future of magazine

“I would say diversify your skill set…get some online experience.
Maximize your computer skills. I don’t know how possible it is to make
a living just writing for magazine anymore. I don’t see that as the

“But if you’re dogged, and talented, and open to being edited like hell, then good luck! It’s hard.”

She added: “Corporate writing is probably the only thing that will save any of us.”

There may not be too many structured newspaper and magazine internships
this summer, but don’t let that dissuade you from doing what you do.
Get out there, get better, and write—even if it is just that company brochure.

Good luck. It is a brutal world out there, but we writers always were gluttons for punishment.

Laura Stone is in her final year of Carleton University’s journalism program. She is Students’ Lounge editor at J-Source.