It’s mid-May, which means it’s about time for journalism schools to send their army of relatively inexperienced student journalists and recent graduates out into the professional world for a test run. Yep, in a few weeks if not already, young, impressionable cub journalists will turn up in newsrooms eager to do everything.
If you’re among the intern ranks this year, here’s your short and simple to-do list for this summer gig.
Say ‘Yes!’ to every opportunity
Volunteer for any opportunity and never tell your editor you can’t or you don’t know how. If the latter is true, say “sure thing” and then ask them for directions upfront. Don’t wait for an assignment: Pitch your own stories. Pitch your involvement in others’ stories. Make a “boring” assignment something interesting to read. You only have a few months, weeks really, to absorb as much as you can from your co-workers. Come early. Stay late. Always do more than the minimum.
Get to know your co-workers and bosses
Who you know matters in journalism. The connections you form in college and early in your career set the ground work for your professional network. Be nice and get to know your co-workers and bosses. Chances are you will run into them again at some point in your career. Your internship bosses will be your references when you apply for jobs after graduation. Make a good impression! Before you leave when your internship is over, sit down with him or her and ask how you did. Ask for honest feedback on what you should focus on improving. Ask them to help review your clips for which ones they think are strongest. Ask about (but don’t expect) job opportunities in the future. Be open to their feedback and their advice, and listen to them. Finally, say thank you. They took a chance on you, and they spent extra time on you.
Find out if journalism is really for you
This is, quite frankly, the real goal of an internship. Yeah, it’s also about getting experience and making connections so you can get a real job. But what good is a job in a field that doesn’t work for you? There are thousands of other wannabe journalists who want that job and will enjoy it. The working conditions, pay and stress level of an entry-level journalist, as you’re about to glimpse, don’t typically equate to the good life. The trade-offs in making a difference, telling untold stories and experiencing history upfront, can totally make up for that. But if you don’t love it, then it’s not worth it. Find a new path now, before you’re too invested. Better to spend one summer unhappy than the rest of your early career. If you can figure this out before you launch an extensive job search and officially move all your worldly possessions across the country for a job you won’t enjoy, your summer internship will have served its purpose. If on the other hand, you leave the internship already eager to finish off classes so you can get back into the newsroom, you’ll know this is your path to follow for now.
Finally, remember that every person you encounter working at your internship started somewhere. They had an internship, a first job and a first day here. Don’t worry if you don’t know everything or if something goes wrong. It happens. It’s expected. It’s OK. Your most important assets right now are an open mind and strong work ethic. Good luck! Don’t forget to have fun.
YOUR TURN: Any other advice for the new interns? What do YOU wish someone had told you?