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Home > Reading Room > Consider an Internship at Your Newsroom — and See How Much You Can Learn

SPJ Reading Room


Consider an Internship at Your Newsroom ó and See How Much You Can Learn

By Carolyn James
Region One Director

It was a quiet post-deadline afternoon and the blaring sound of the fire trucks passing our office pierced the silence like a blade through silk. My first reaction as an editor who still has a street reporterís blood running through her veins was to jump up, grab my note pad and rush out the door.

I didnít.

In the next room was my newest college intern, so instead I awaited her reaction.

The sound of her fingers on the computer keyboard didnít skip a beat, even as the sirens came to a screeching halt about 1,000 feet away from our front door. She continued to type some mundane item ó and I waited. Nothing happened.

Gathering all my patience, I calmly got up from my desk and peeked out into the newsroom and asked, "What is that noise?"

Most of the dozens of interns I have had at my office over the past 15 years have been more 'with it.' Most are bright, energetic and enthusiastic, and remind me and my staff of why we got into this crazy business in the first place. And, they taught us how to use computers, operate programs and navigate the Internet!

"Oh, I think itís a fire," she said. "Those were fire engines."

By this time my reporterís blood was racing. I wanted to scream that this is a newspaper and fires are news stories, but remembered that she was a student and I had a great opportunity here to teach her something.

I eventually got the student out the door with a note pad and a camera and worked with her closely to get a story about the fire into our next edition. It was a long haul, but I think she learned something.

Actually, most of the dozens of interns I have had at my office over the past 15 years have been more "with it." Most are bright, energetic and enthusiastic, and remind me and my staff of why we got into this crazy business in the first place. And, they taught us how to use computers, operate programs and navigate the Internet!

The internship program we offer enables students to earn three college credits for completing a college semester, usually consisting of 120 hours, half of which is spent in the office. The other 60 hours is spent taking return phone calls during the week, reading two newspapers each day and working on their writing assignments.

Here are some suggestions for anyone considering an internship program at their newsroom:

ó Advertise your internship at local colleges and on the Internet.

ó Hold an orientation prior to the beginning of the semester outlining the program and the amount of work you expect the intern to complete in order to fulfill the requirements of the program.

ó Be clear about dress codes, ethics and office protocol; discuss SPJís code of ethics and the resources it offers students.

ó Interview each intern, assessing their writing and reporting abilities, their interests and determine what they hope to gain from the internship.

ó If the intern has a guidance counselor, call them at the beginning of the semester and discuss the studentís strengths and weaknesses so you know what type of student you are dealing with and what level of competence they have reached.

ó Tailor a program for each student. Some students may need basic instruction beginning with how to use the telephone system, fax or other office machines, while others can jump right in and report on a major news story.

ó Break up the monotony of the semester with a trip to the police station to gather news, the printing plant or the local court for some off-site experience.

ó Set up a folder for each intern and ensure that they keep copies of all their work in it. Anything that is removed from the office should be photocopied first. You would be surprised how many interns have had their paperwork lost or eaten by their dog.

ó File all messages or work assignments in the folders. This helps in the event you are not in the office one day and helps them to establish a sense of independence about their work assignments.

ó Have each student fill out a form with their name, address, phone number and e-mail address, as well as the semester they worked in your office. Print it out and keep it, adding a head shot of the student. It is not unusual for you to get calls even years later for a reference. With this information in hand, it is easier to recall the student, and enables you to access the work they did so you can give a more accurate reference.

ó You can offer a paid internship, a non-paid internship or one that offers a small stipend as the student completes each assignment or at the end of the semester.

Remember that your part of the bargain is to give the student a valuable and well-rounded internship. There is no doubt that it takes time away from your work week, but the rewards are bountiful. My interns are now reporters for major dailies across the country. One covered the White House and another works for CBS news in South Carolina. Some are teachers and public relations specialists. I have been invited to their weddings and keep in touch with many of them by phone and e-mail. Some, like the gal who could allow blaring fire engines to speed past her doorstep without the sound elevating her heartbeat at all have, thankfully, gone on to other careers. All, however, have taught me more than I have ever taught them.

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