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How to act during summer internship?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by irnsdn, Jan 30, 2011.

  1. irnsdn

    irnsdn New Member

    Hi everyone,

    I'm a freshman in college and am looking for a summer internship at a newspaper in my area. My school does help me search, but I pulled up this thread from a while ago (http://www.sportsjournalists.com/forum/threads/29728/) and that was the only thing I saw about interns on this board. It wasn't exactly what I was hoping to read -- I'm curious to know what editors like/don't like from their interns? The last thing I want to be is an arrogant pest.

    A few questions I have for all the editors out there:

    1. Do you like/dislike if the interns ask questions? At what point is the line drawn between pestering and asking reasonable questions?

    2. I'm not the type to act like I know everything about journalism, because quite frankly, I know very little. I've been writing for the school paper since September. That says enough, right? I'm hoping to get honest answers that will help me understand how I should act and what is the wrong way to act. I want to get better.

    3. What type of work should I expect? Will I be doing a daily Dunkin Donuts run, or are interns used for reporting purposes as well? I just want to write, gain experience and get clips. Any help is greatly appreciated. If this is in the wrong place, feel free to move ths post.
  2. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    1. If you have to ask if you're pestering, you probably are. If you have a couple of years at the college paper, that should help. Editors don't want to answer stuff you should have learned at school.

    2. It depends on the paper. A lot of papers with good internship programs help writer. You won't be a gofer. You'll actually cover stuff. Interns aren't supposed to be used as secretaries and don't accept that treatment when you intern.
  3. SeanKennedy

    SeanKennedy Member

    Hi. My opinions:

    It's a darn good idea to ask questions. That's what we do, right? Now, obviously, don't go running into the editor's office every two minutes with a question that can be answered with a decent search of the internet. But if there is something you don't understand, ask.

    What you do will depend on what kind of internship you want. Some will have writing internships, or, more likely, you could snag an internship on a desk taking calls and writing up high school briefs.
  4. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Don't be the smartest guy in the room, even if you are.
    Couple of years ago, we had one intern who went to an ACC school and received a solid education and had good clips, but when it came to people skills, this f-tard was an absolute Blank. He knew everything about everything, and felt he was ready to walk into a top 20 newsroom and be the lead writer on whatever beat. However, he had no interpersonal skills and couldn't take direction with a map.
    He loved soccer and he loved covering soccer, which was a bonus for everyone else. But he also wrote his stories for coaches and not the mass public. He was told time and time again that he needed to dumb his stories down because the average reader would be left thinking "what am I reading?"
    It was, of course, our fault because we failed to give him direction and the coaches who he sucked up to loved his copy.
    His inability to listen made him, in my 25 years in this business, one of the four worst interns I've ever worked with -- all four at my current stop.
    Listen with eyes wide open and realize people tell you things for a reason.
    Asking questions is one thing and a good thing; your ability to absorb the answer will depend on you.
    I plead with my supervisor when this rolls around that he needs to be more involved in the interview process -- writing can always improve but if the intern doesn't have common sense and street smarts, he/she will never understand what they are supposed to learn.
  5. PopeDirkBenedict

    PopeDirkBenedict Active Member

    My advice:

    Watch and listen, then ask questions based on what you see. Simply watching will answer many of your questions so you don't start sounding like a 3 year old on a question binge. When its 10 mins to deadline, sit down, shut up and watch (and if someone needs you to do something, do it). But after deadline, when everyone is coming down from the adrenaline high, pick someone's brain. So I guess my general advice on questions is leave people alone while they are doing something, but ask post-mortem kinds of questions. And you can always tell people, "If I am pestering you, just tell me to knock it off. No hard feelings."

    At the beginning of the internship, do whatever they ask of you and take it seriously. In the last few years, I've both been an intern and have supervised interns. Coming from the other side, I can tell you this: at the beginning, no one ever gives an intern an important job. If it is something that is very important, I will do it myself so that I can ensure it is done right. So if they send you to a game, its not one that they care about. But that is no excuse to loaf and turn in some half-baked piece of garbage. I want to see that you treat it seriously and do good work. A good internship progresses in what they give interns. Do a good job answering phones and then you might start writing briefs. Do a good job writing briefs, then you might get to go to a game and fetch quotes. Do a good job fetching quotes and you might get to cover a game or two.

    And whatever the assignment is, grab a recent paper and study it -- for example, if you are writing briefs, study the briefs section. What do they put in, what do they leave out? Do they dateline briefs? Roughly how long are they? Are they arranged in a certain order?

    Regarding how to act: nothing is worse than an intern with a sense of entitlement. If you go into the internship and you are willing to do anything they ask -- no matter how small -- you will be fine. So don't go in expecting to get a byline within a week. But do whatever they ask, show a sense of responsibility and you will do well at almost any internship.
  6. SoCalScribe

    SoCalScribe Member

    Show respect at all times. Not just to your mentor, or your coworkers, but to every single professional journalist you encounter in your work, as well as other "adults" such as professional athletes and coaches. It doesn't have to be fealty, but respect their position vis a vis yours. That was the approach I took when I was a young intern who often covered major league sporting events, and it served me well.

    You're highly unlikely to break significant news as an intern, so focus on learning the craft. Everyone wants to teach, but only if they like their pupil. That goes for writers, athletes and coaches alike.

    I can still remember when I was an intern, asking a pro coach a couple questions at a time that was not really kosher to be asking him questions. Because he knew me, he was nice enough to answer them (quite succintly) rather than embarrassing me on a grand stage. One of the other writers took me aside and told me about my gaffe, and I apologized soon thereafter to the coach in question. He said, I know you didn't know, I was going to clue you in later, don't worry about it.

    I consider that a success story, because young journalists WILL make mistakes, and it's all about how you handle it. And a lot of how you are able to handle it has to do with the foundation that you lay prior to your mistakes.
  7. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

    You can avoid asking a lot of questions by always having a copy of the AP stylebook, your paper's stylebook and always keeping up to date with what is in the paper and on the Web site. If you are up-to-date with the current stories, and learn the area, and the style, you won't have that much trouble. Plus, if you have questions about style, you can always look in yesterday's paper or on the web - and not have to bug your boss.
  8. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    They would rather you be a pest then act like you know everything.

    Say things like, "I'm sorry to be a pest but I just want to learn everything I can from people who have been successful in this field."

    Always thank them for their help and time. "If you have any other suggestions about what I can do to improve my writing, I would appreciate that."

    It's hard to dislike someone who is eager and trying to learn. It's very easy to dislike someone who knows nothing but thinks he knows everything.

    I worked with an intern who would read the stories filed by the beat writers and columnists and start talking very loudly about what HE would do to make the story better and how he would never, ever make the punctuation mistakes that they would make and so on.

    The same intern answered the phone when a columnist called in and pointed out that he had caught a spelling error and a punctuation error in his copy.

    Yeah, he was well-liked.
  9. BB Bobcat

    BB Bobcat Active Member

    1. Find a staff member below the editor (another writer, a desk guy, an assistant) who seems to be open to helping you and latch on him, rather than bugging the SE.

    2. Come up with story ideas on your own if they aren't assigning you enough things or enough things that interest you. Don't jump onto another guy's beat, but stuff on the opponents for the big beats is usually OK. (I did that a lot with MLB as an intern.)
  10. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    If you're interning at a big paper, it can be good to take a "speak only when spoken to" when dealing with the SE. This might not be the case everywhere, but it certainly was at two of the three places I interned.
  11. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    I think tone is important when you ask questions.

    If your question comes off like, "I'm asking about this because I think the way this was done is wrong and I know better," you're going to rub people the wrong way.

    If your question comes off as a sincere quest for information and not a ploy to challenge the way something was done, you're going to be a lot better off.

    When you're young and inexperienced and never done any management, it's easy to see things in black and white and get worked up when you think things should be different. But things are rarely black and white. Like Ritter says to Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger: "Gray! The world is gray, Jack!"
  12. BB Bobcat

    BB Bobcat Active Member

    Here's another one... If someone on a major beat seems open to helping you out, offer to help him out at a game by running quotes.

    When I was an intern at the LA Times, Bill Plaschke was covering the Dodgers and I sat next to him and did the "how they scored." (Hard to believe there was a time when writers had to do that themselves!) Anyway, it was a pain in the ass for him, so he was happy for me to do it, and it was great for me just to sit next to him and ask him questions and be around the ballpark atmosphere to get my footing.

    Just make sure you don't screw up whatever menial task you accept! :)
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