How to make the most of your journalism internship

Landing the big internship can in itself be a difficult process, but fully utilizing the time spent working for a media company can be even more daunting. Add to that the importance an internship holds for a future career in journalism and the need to get a job afterward and the pressure is on. There are some things that should be done during your internship to maximize your time and come away with a great portfolio and a fistful of contacts.

Get paid

Some veteran journalists will tell you to take an internship, even if it is unpaid, because the experience is invaluable. That’s all well and good, but many interns work as hard as, if not harder than, staff reporters. Unless you have the financial resources to last your entire time as intern, hold out for the position that pays because experience won’t put food on the table.

Speak up

Often times, intern managers and other journalists are too busy with their own workload to manage yours, so if you want work to add to your portfolio, ask around and see who needs help. There’s often a story or two that nobody else is eager to cover, but as mentioned before there is no such thing as a small story, only small thinking. Don’t go for page one or primetime, go for greatness.

Also, it’s not enough to sit back and let the stories come to you. You must be proactive and come up with your own ideas. This has two benefits: 1. You get to write or produce the stories you care about and 2. You are asserting yourself as an ambitious go-getter.

Ask questions

If there is some part of the newsgathering process you don’t understand or lingo you’ve never heard of, be sure to ask questions. Most newsroom reporters understand that you are an intern and are more than willing to assist with simple requests. Just be sure to ask questions during down times, because a reporter on deadline is not the most cheerful person.

Jump into multimedia

Most large media organizations have an entire staff dedicated to multimedia production, but smaller newspapers, TV and radio stations often do not. This is your time to shine! Even the smallest traces of multimedia skills are appreciated and if your supervising editor/producer is willing to cooperate, the result is a great piece or pieces for your portfolio. As everyone knows, and Eric Ulken proves, interns need multimedia skills to stay competitive.

Fraternize with the staff

Interns are often thrust into a group of new people, sometimes in a city far from their hometown. The easiest thing to do is to sit and eat lunch at your desk while laughing groups of people pass by, headed to a local eatery. Next time, ask if you can join. You might find out more about the inner workings of the company and meet some new people along the way.

Also, be sure to spend time with staff in departments other than your own. A good intern is a well-rounded intern, so make an effort to learn about all aspects of the newsroom.

Get business cards

Even if at the close of your internship you are not offered a position at the company, be sure to get the business cards of everyone you’ve made contact with. You never know who might be able to give you leads in the future. On the back of each business card, write a little note about that person so you will be able to recall little details about them long after you’ve left. If someone was especially helpful, send them a thank you note. Journalists like to feel appreciated.