July 3, 2013

Career Advice

Be an Asset As a Journalism Intern

By: Megan Ward

Interns frequently create more work for editors—sometimes, more work than they are worth.

Interns may have little or no knowledge of AP style. Their copy may be sloppy and filled with grammatical errors and inaccuracies. Their writing may read more like a college term paper than the clear, straightforward style of newspaper writing.

With those interns, the editor has to take time out of his or her day to find something for the intern to do. Editors hate those interns.

Don’t be one of those interns. Learn AP style. Read newspapers— lots of them—every single day and not just The New York Times, but your hometown paper as well. Pay attention to the language used in the articles, the length of the articles and the sources in the stories. Make sure to read a variety of stories and not just national news. Read those stories about the church group crocheting blankets for the poor, the city budget, and fatal car crashes.

Avoid inaccuracies at all costs. One of the most common and easily avoidable mistakes is misspelling someone’s name. Always ask. Ask Bob Smith to spell his name. An editor may forgive you for misspelling a person’s name, but it will never be forgotten. After interviewing a source, go over the facts to make sure they are accurate. Don’t offer to send the story to a source before it’s published. Many papers have policies against this. Check with an editor. Usually, a source will rethink what he said and will want to revise until your piece reads like a press release.

Learn how to post your stories on the newspaper’s website. Shoot video and photos if possible. Most newspapers now see themselves as content gatherers and producers and concentrate on their website as much as on their print product. Find out what the paper is doing on its website and social media. Volunteer to help with those efforts. These skills will help you land a job later.

Preparation will give you a stronger knowledge of the community you are covering. A dedicated commitment to accuracy and openness to expanding your multimedia skills shows the editor you are worth the extra work.

Megan Ward (mward@hpe.com) is editor of the High Point Enterprise in High Point, North Carolina. This piece was originally published in the Institute for Humane Studies Journalism Career Guide.