This is an industry that rewards strong, committed work with advancement. Getting there takes more than a journalism degree and references from professors. It takes experience. An internship is your ticket there. Just like most things in life, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. An internship is an opportunity to learn skills, make connections, produce examples of your published work and find out if this is the right career for you.
Many students may dream about interning at larger newspapers like The Chicago Tribune or The Charlotte Observer. There is great value to working in a large newsroom and making connections with journalists who have made it this far, but an internship at a large, metro paper in a big city may be difficult to obtain. Furthermore, with the prestige of interning at a large paper often goes clerical and research work.
Interns at smaller papers, however, often write front page stories their first week. A smaller staff can allow you to interact more closely with other staff members including copyeditors, photographers, and online editors. You will probably receive more attention at a smaller paper. Interns at a community paper often have more responsibilities and a wider range of coverage opportunities.
In May, newspaper editors may field dozens of phone calls and emails from young, aspiring journalists searching for a summer internship. Get ahead of them. Send an e-mail in the winter. Give the dates you will be available to work and the times. Tell the editor what you are willing to do.
One of the things you should be willing to do is write stories, include a list of at least 10 story ideas. Make sure those ideas are all local. Explore the paper’s website, and read through the calendars in the newspaper from church events to art classes and even the classifieds to find local story ideas. Search community websites, such as the chamber of commerce, the county’s school system and more. In doing this, you will learn about the community and find story ideas.
Your well-researched story list will show an editor what you can offer the paper. Follow up with a phone call after you send the email. If you don’t hear back immediately, try again. Persistence pays off, but don’t go to the point of harassment. If you haven’t heard back after leaving a few messages and emails, move on to another newspaper.
Megan Ward (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.