Archive for the ‘internships’ Category

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.


Continuing from where I left off in the last post…and especially since it struck a raw nerve with some anonymous persons… I just love to get under people’s skin, don’t I?

We were at a dinner with friends a few days ago at the Boat Club, and one of them, told us about her daughter’s experiences as an intern at a well known Hospitality Management Institute in Switzerland. Her daughter K is training to be a chef.

Every day at the institute K would ask her senior what her duties were for the day and was told to do the dishes. So for the entire week that’s all K did. One day she mustered up the courage to speak to her senior and she was told to do what she had been told to do. Her first thought was “My parents did not pay so much money to send me here, so I would end up washing dishes.”

When K spoke to her mother, who is a corporate trainer, she was bluntly told that during internships one did what one was told. When the girl told her mother that all she had been doing since she landed at the institute was clean dishes, she was given some sound advice on how to deal with the situation, without going against the rules. But she was told that she would still have to do whatever she was told to do.

This kid, obviously a chip of the old block, decided to do something about it. The next day as soon as she reached the institute and without asking or waiting to be told, she started cleaning.

Her senior demanded to know why she was doing this. The girl replied that since she had landed there all she had been doing was cleaning, so she presumed that is all she was supposed to do. So she started early, without being told. Her senior didn’t say a word. A little while later she was told to stop cleaning and asked to help the chef. Suddenly, she was being given respect.

A few days ago, I was really touched when one of the students, I was speaking to about a project on the cards, said, “Sir, we will work till midnight, but we’ll do it, because we want to.” Conversely, there was another group that initially went from “it can’t be done” to “won’t work on holidays” and finally to “won’t work after 6 pm,” before agreeing to work on the project. It was the same project and similar responsibilities, but each group approached it differently before agreeing to do it.

Someone once rightly said that one should not demand respect, one should earn it. So these kids have earned my respect. And they are the just like the countless others who complain about everything, instead of finding a way around it. Or are they from another planet?

When I hear the whining that goes on about lousy internships, boring lectures, bad teachers etc etc. I wonder what these kids will do when they start to earn a salary and run into unsavoury situations, such as those that occur every other day at their workplace.

What will they do when they run into a senior who asks them to do most of the job and then takes the credit? Will they burst into tears and run off to mummy or make it a status message on Facebook or Orkut – “Help, I just got screwed by a shitty boss.”

It’s natural to crib about the environment in your workplace and against your manager. Everyone does so and there’s nothing one can do about it. But it’s one thing to crib about it to a friend or a few close friends, but an entirely different thing to do so on a public forum – unless of course, you have the appointment letter of another company in your pocket! Even then it’s a bad idea.

Come to think about it, most of these kids are getting into various streams of the media and will enter workplaces where vindictive behaviour, narcissism and bitching, (and that’s just a few of the milder forms of harassment) are as common as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Heck, I know of one newspaper where almost the entire editorial staff went to the Press Club and got happily drunk because the Editor had been told to pack his bags and go back to where he came from – for reasons that had nothing to do with his performance as an editor.

I also know of an editor who deliberately asked a senior journalist to do a story on a subject that the management had issued instructions against doing, and which would have cost him his job. Since he had just joined and was still not too well acquainted with the dos and don’ts of the organisation, he wrote the story.

He escaped the noose only because another senior editor realised what the game was and scrapped the story. He even warned the journalist to be on his guard in the future. Strangely, when the journalist told his editor that he would not be submitting the report, there were no questions asked.

And that’s just one of the milder forms of nastiness that journalists exhibit. Of course, such behavior is not uncommon at other workplaces. Even the holy cow of the Indian industry – Info Tech – has it in plenty. This nastiness also goes under another euphemism – office politics.

When I hear some of the kids complaining about their managers and superiors, I feel like telling them that what they are going through at present (and most of it is their doing), is just a fraction of what they’ll receive when they enter the corporate world. There it’s a dog-eat-dog world, with your best friend planning your execution even as he raises a toast to your life and success, over a dinner that his wife prepared, especially for “her husband’s best friend and wife”! It gives an entirely new connotation to the expression “you’re toast”!

In such situations these kids have two choices – stay there and fight, or pack their bags and move to a new job – till it happens again… and again…and again. There is also a third way – keep quiet. I’ve learnt, that people who are vindictive and sadistic, usually get rattled when you don’t react. And the more you dig your heels in and refuse to react the more rattled they get.

In my previous company, I had the misfortune of working with one such gentleman, who believed that being nasty and abusive to his juniors was actually a positive trait. He would proudly tell me how he bullied employees with threats and warnings. And the poor employees would bear it silently because, after all, everyone needs a job. Needless to say that it was a matter of time before people began to look for jobs elsewhere. The company all but folded up and the imaginative CEO’s dream went up in smoke and his bank balance down quite a few million dollars. And mind you, he was a really nice guy. He just didn’t know how to control his relatives and their friends.

I’m sure there will be people who worked under me who might also think I was lousy boss, and like them I too have had my share of crappy bosses. But I’ll tell you about them when I retire – or better still when I write a book post-retirement! After the one that I finished recently (and sent to the publisher) sees the light of the day, and the one I am writing gets past the first chapter, where it is presently stuck!

I heard the other day that some students of an institute walked out of their internship, because they were not given a job that was more to their liking.
One of my favourite students (yup even a cynic like me has a few!) asked me how I would rate students of the institute she was studying in, and I told her. I think she was a bit taken aback. In her case, I know she is a bright kid, so that rating is redundant, but I can’t say the same for a lot of others. And we are not talking IQ here, just basic general knowledge. I think the answers given below are a pretty good indicator!
My former colleague and good friend Rema Nagarajan, who works with Times Insight in New Delhi, and is a Chevening and a Fulbright scholar, told me a few days ago that students of Mass Communication display poor GK because they don’t even read the pages they work on and don’t take their internships seriously.
Interns believe that since the company accepted their request, it is not for them to ask but for the company to give. Unfortunately, as we all know and have experienced, that in journalism nothing is ever served on a platter – not stories, not promotions, certainly not internships – and today, not even jobs. You have to grab, pester and demand. If you don’t, you lose. Neither the media house nor the mediaperson cares.
As trainees we had to plead to be allowed to accompany our seniors on reporting assignments. Even then, we were told “just observe don’t ask any questions.” Our seniors were smart enough to ask us to formulate the questions, but we could never directly ask them. We were told to soak in the newspaper environment, watch our seniors at work and see how they write or edit a story, before venturing out on our own. For months, my first boss Joe Pinto made me cut ticker copies – a job normally reserved for office boys – and then read them.
Today interns demand a byline the first time they do a story. That is, in a way, understandable because their course demands a certain number of bylines during their session. But should they walk out for any silly reason? Interns who walk out should remember that it’s a small world and journalists, as we all know, have fragile egos and don’t forget anything, however minor and however much they care to deny it!
Another good friend, babu kalyanpur,who is now Business Editor at Gulf daily News in Bahrain, says one can’t really teach journalism, because the only way to start is from scratch, learn and work your way up. This is why internships are the most important part of journalism. Learning in a live situation is the first step on the ladder and internships provide that.
He gave his own example. He dropped out of the Journalism course after doing a month’s internship in Indian Express, because the then editor of Indian Express Daryl DeMonte told him, referring to the journalism degree, “I don’t want to see that shit piece of paper.”
DeMonte told him to join the Indian Express right away. Babu took the advice and is still a journalist 30 years later and has a pretty successful career with Indian Express, Maharashtra Herald and GDN.
But here are some random gems from the answer papers of students from some of the institutes in the city:
• Pratibha Patil is the Prime Minister of India
• French President Nicholas Sarkozy was involved in the Bofors deal
• Emergency was declared in 1984 after India Gandhi feared a war
• Emergency was declared in 1975 by Rajiv Gandhi
• Ishrat Jahan was a male, Muslim political leader from Kashmir
• Ishrat Jahan was a male Muslim political leader from Gujarat who fought against Narendra Modi
• Ishrat Khan was raped and murdered during the Gujarat riots
and the best one…
• Sorry, but who is Ishrat Jahan?
Prime Minister Pratibha Patil? Rajiv Gandhi in 1975? Sarkozy and Bofors? Nicholas Sarkozy was probably smoking weed and bedding the women in Paris during the time the Bofors deal surfaced!