To Interns, With Love: How To Work It In the Newsroom

It’s a Thursday afternoon in June and that means there are media interns across the country staring at walls, possibly showing too much skin, and playing around with your CMS. Since we know you’re reading now, journalism students and digital hopefuls, here’s my advice to you. Of course, it should all be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

1) I’ve only actually held one real, certified internship at a local cable news show. It was not as cool as some other internships that my classmates had — they were in more glamorous buildings with more glamorous names. Luckily, interning at a small, sort of uncool media company meant that I actually had tasks to perform, a producer to report to, and the fruits of my labor often ended up on the air.

And yet, there was still always about an hour and a half,  just after I knocked out all of my work and it had been approved, I asked for more work and there was none, and just before the cold open where I would run a teleprompter like a boss (it’s a shame this is not a marketable skill), during which there was nothing to do. I would fiddle with tabs on my browser like I was in a North Korean computer lab and try not to make too much noise as I popped the top of my Diet Coke can. It was excruciating.

Now, I don’t know what it’s like at bigger companies. But I finally put on my big girl pants and caught my boss’s eye, and instead of asking her if there was anything else, in general, that I could do — I got specific. “Hey, I finished adjusting the audio levels on those clips,  but I would like to try my hand at writing some scripts for the blah blah blah” She blinked twice and suddenly I was writing the news. Granted, she usually used her version on air, but I learned a lot from her critiques and was mildly amused that my editorial sensibility was on par with the paid professional’s.

Moral: You’re technically supposed to be learning, so they have to at least pretend to listen if you say you want to try something else in the newsroom. Yes, they’re busy and they can’t hold your hand, but it’s always worth asking if you can go sit in a different department and broaden your horizons. 

2) The media business is a weird animal and your internship doesn’t mean you get a paid position after jumping through a certain set of hoops like a tax consultant. You’ve heard it before, but you’ll probably end up working for yourself before you end up working for a media company. In the immortal words of Mama Horvath: get a job and start a blog. Maybe you already know this because you are in journalism school in 2013 as opposed to [enter my graduation date here]. If you want to write, write. If you want to make a web series, make a web series. If you’re destined to stare at walls in a Conde Nast office, so be it. Use those hours to learn to code, create a portfolio and tailor your social media presence. Maybe that’s not good advice, so do it when you get home, but be productive.

3) Make contacts. Sure, there’s always going to be that grumpy sports editor glaring at you because you tagged something incorrectly or got the last bag of M&Ms from the vending machine, but you also probably know more about new media than they do. Speak up at the morning meeting. Tweet them back. Be active. Try to talk to the person who’s job you want one day about what they’re doing. The fact is that newsrooms aren’t all that glamorous, it just seems that way because you don’t have a purpose, a salary or healthcare yet. The worst that happens is you seem too uppity. So be it — it’s a whole new world out there, make yourself known.