What an intern should do…

Posted: October 5, 2010 in internships, journalism, Media

Internships are a part and parcel of every student’s life. Unlike an internship with a multinational, doing a stint with a media house – print or broadcast – is an experience like nothing you can imagine. There have been rather extreme reactions from journalism students who have come back from an internship with a media house, and quite a few of them have been negative.

Even when it comes to jobs, some first-timers have a torrid time at a new workplace, with the environment seemingly hostile and indifferent to their predicament as newbies. So here are some guidelines for interns sent to me by some journalists:

 Accept this it’s the media house that has agreed to take you in as an intern. They are doing you a favour, and not the other way round. So you had better appear grateful for the chance. Attitude problems will not get you anywhere.

 Read as many issues as possible of the newspaper where you will intern paying attention to how different stories are written, and the style. If you are being put into the city team read the city pages extra carefully and see how intros are written, how stories are constructed.

 Get to office before everyone else does, especially before the bosses and seniors. It always helps to be around when the bosses are relatively free and more amenable to meeting you and listening to you. DON’T go to them just when all hell breaks loose in the newsroom, or in the evening when the newsroom goes crazy meeting copy deadlines.

 Don’t keep goofing off for too many coffee breaks. You might not be around just when the boss thinks of giving something to “that intern” to do. Stay as late as you can and try to keep yourself busy. If in an English newspaper, read the language papers, they give you ideas for stories and stories done there can be repeated in your paper if no other English paper has caught onto to it.

 You are going to be sent to a lot of events which probably will never be used. These assignments, IF you are lucky enough to get any, are to primarily keep you out of the hair of people who actually have to do the work, like the staff reporters. Don’t get disheartened.

 Much of the stuff you file might end up being trashed. If any of it is used, don’t go around haranguing for a byline. Be grateful it got used at all. If your work is any good you might even be given a few exclusive stories to do.

 If what you write gets used, it might be rewritten. Check what appears with what you wrote and try and learn what you did wrong on your own. In most places people don’t have the time or inclination to tell you what you are doing wrong or how you can improve. But if you find anyone inclined to help, grab the chance but without being such a drag that the person starts avoiding you.

 If during your internship you sit around twiddling your thumbs expecting people to give you work or ask you to work, you just might spend your entire internship doing just that, twiddling your thumbs.

 You are expected to be proactive without being too pushy. So when the boss is relatively free ask for work. Suggest story ideas. The boss might shoot down most of your ideas or there might even be some who will be nasty enough to ridicule some of them. Don’t get put off. Keep doing it. It is embarrassing even for bosses to keep on being negative, and so under pressure, the boss will have to say yes to a few of your ideas. And if your ideas work, you get your story into the paper.

 Ask reporters to take you with them when they go to interesting spots. Reporters usually hate taking anyone along. It cramps their style. But be a bit persistent. It’s a great learning experience to watch reporters at work. They usually give in if you keep asking and also insist you’ll be as unobtrusive as possible. You will learn what to do and sometimes, also what not to do when going after a story.

 Newspapers are all about teamwork. If you are overtly bitchy and mean to fellow interns, no one is going to love you for it. A team player is a huge asset for any department. So be bright, pleasant and always willing to help even if you don’t feel like any of it.

 Spell check your copies before handing them in, no matter how good your writing skills might be. It’s unacceptable to not do so. Read your own copies several times before handing them in. Copies with sloppy and careless mistakes are UNACCEPTABLE.

 Senior journalists might let you address them by their first name but that is not an invitation to take liberties. Journalism might be less hierarchical but the hierarchy exists, make no mistake and you better recognize it. Be respectful and polite. Don’t be flippant and shorten names or start using slang and the F-Word with seniors, even if they do. Upstarts are disliked.

 Do not accept gifts and to make matters worse come to office and brag about it. You might think these things don’t matter anymore in journalism, but you can be sure it will be noticed and will work against you – somewhere, sometime.

 And finally, newspaper jobs mean no fixed hours. If you don’t like that, you are in the wrong job. So if you crib about long hours or irregular hours or about having to change or drop your plans every evening, get out of journalism NOW.


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