How to make the most out of being a journalism intern

Internships are widely derided as being a source of exploitation and way of ensuring only those who can afford to work for free get into journalism.

But I think that if done well, work experience is a boon for aspiring journalists and an equal trade whereby free labour is exchanged for invaluable mentoring.

If anything, interns should pay the publications (or at least provide the editor with a bottle of whisky, as one student on work experience did for me once).

To help the next generation of journalists make the most out of internships City University in London has teamed up with The Journalists’ Charity to host an event called How to be an Intern.

The panellists are Helen Lewis from the New Statesman, Mirror managing editor Aidan McGurran, Hearst content director Louise Court, journalism student Georgia Edkins and head of journalism at City University Suzanne Franks.

The event starts at 6pm, on Thursday, 16 March, followed by networking drinks. Those attending are invited to make a donation of £5 to the Journalists’ Charity. Sign up here.

Here are my internship tips.

For employers:

  • Pay them at least the minimum wage if they are staying longer than two weeks (this is the law)
  • Have a plan to make sure you and them make the most of the experience
  • Be nice to them. Today’s intern will be tomorrow’s high-flying journalist. One day you could be applying to them for a job!

For interns:

  • Secure placements by sending a short cover letter and CV addressed to the person who deals with work experience at the publication in question (you may need to call up to get that name). Expect your first, second, and third emails to be ignored or missed. Follow up your emails with a phone-call. Repeat weekly until you get a yes or no
  • Arrive promptly ready to work from the off
  • Dress smart enough to go anywhere if necessary (shirt and tie for men)
  • Bring a Dictaphone and telephone in-ear mic (unless your shorthand is 100wpm you will need this)
  • Bring a notepad and pen so that you’re first mission is not finding the stationary cupboard
  • Prepare some story ideas before you start. If you are not given work to do search social media and other news sites for possible leads and keep pitching them to your editor until you find one they like.

Picture: Pixabay

Comments

1 thought on “How to make the most out of being a journalism intern”

  1. This is absolutely ridiculous, especially coming from someone “fighting for journalism”. Then you should also fight for those who are on the very lowest, most vulnerable place in journalism, i.e. those just starting out in an incredibly tough industry.

    (But first, to be fair, all your advice except for the getting-paid-or-not debate is excellent, essential even for everyone trying to make it in journalism.)

    But then you stumble, if not falling flat on your head even. You seem afraid to actually give the advice you honestly feel is best from your perspective. So you want to stand on the side of the law, but really, you find the law to be too considerate of interns and workers…?

    Because, no, interns should never pay for their internships. Not only shouldn’t they pay, it would be unethical of you to even expect or mention it. That bottle of whisky you bring up, fine, but absolutely not at the end of the internship. (And now I mean specifically your expectations of a bottle of whisky at the end of the internship. If the intern by her own free will, completely oblivious to this piece of horrible advice, gives you a bottle of whisky out of sheer gratitude, then fine, accept it.)

    But that bottle should come in many years time, maybe halfway through a career, when your head is starting to screw on right, when you realise who did what for you at the start of that, hopefully successful, career. Because, believe me, every boss or editor you run through as an intern, does not necessarily deserve that whisky. If you deserved it back then, I believe it’s coming for you in the future.

    It shouldn’t even be a topic. Pay interns, period, and explicitly tell them NOT to pay anyone, not to be overly thankful. (They’re overly thankful enough.) Be happy they want to come and work for you for minimum pay.

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