In the latest NABJ members-only webinar, a panel discussed the importance of internships and why you need to get one and how you can maximize your intern experience. The event, hosted by NABJ Student Representative Wilton Jackson, featured veteran journalist Wendy Wilson, students Malika Andrews and Tierra Smith, along with recent graduate Clayton Gutzmore. They shared their experiences and answered questions. NABJ members can listen to the webinar here.
Wilson offered six golden tips on what it takes to have a successful internship here. We ran out of time but still had questions. So panelists Malika Andrews and Clayton Gutzman took a crack at them, below. Finally, our next NABJ members-only webinar, “How to Negotiate A Contract You Can Live With,” will be held on Tuesday, March 21 at 8:00 p.m. EDT. Attorney Exavier Pope will reveal six key things you need to include in your next contract.
What is the best way to follow up with an internship program regarding your application?
MA: I think an email is generally the best way to follow up. Remember, following up doesn’t necessarily have to be “when will you decide?” When I was applying for SJI, I sent Greg [Lee] (the coordinator) a Happy Thanksgiving email, a happy holidays email, happy birthday (okay, I didn’t go that far) — but I did send him a happy holidays note and “I look forward to hearing from you” note.
CG: Give it about two to three weeks before sending an email. Do your research first and find out how their process goes. If it’s not listed, ask before you apply.
What if you have 3-4 years of freelance experience? Would you recommend still going for internships?
CG: Yes still apply for internships. Apply for the internship you believe will take you to the next level. Internships that are different than your current line of freelance work. If you are good enough to freelance, you are able to still earn money while seeking new opportunities. Fellowships can also be something to seek out.
MA: I think internships can apply across the board. One of my good friends Rhiannon Walker (now full time with The Undefeated) took back-to-back internships for a year or two before committing to a full-time job. If you are looking for that full-time gig after freelance and nothing is biting, reworking what you are applying for and going for an internship can be a great thing.
How does one find the hiring manager, especially if it’s at a big media corporation? I have tried LinkedIn, but that has not helped.
CG: Check the website. There should be contact information at the bottom or on a tab on their website. Call the station and politely ask. Check with your professors. If it’s a big company, they should know somebody that knows somebody.
MA: Ask! Usually, someone will know in your network. For instance, when I was applying for the New York Times internship, I asked someone I had met at a conference very briefly who to address my cover letter to. It turned out, I was supposed to address it to him! He was glad I asked. Or you can always call the newsroom.
I am in the process of applying to internships at local TV stations. What advice do you have to set myself apart?
MA: Find your voice and hone in on it. Are you a great features storyteller? Great. Hold that up. Can you edit as well as be in front of the camera? Say that. And be versatile- make sure you are more than just the face in front of the camera or the behind-the-scenes person.
Also, in your cover letters, make sure not to just say that this is why you want this. A lot of kids want it. Make sure you also say how you are a good fit for them and what sorts of things you bring to the table.
I have just received my first internship at a news station in Greensboro, N.C. I am extremely excited. What can I do to prepare for that internship now? What are the things that would make me stick out in the internship? What are some of the tasks of an intern at a news station?
MA: This may seem basic, but make sure you watch the station. Familiarize yourself with their content style and also the content they have already published so you make sure you aren’t pitching stories that double dip into what they’ve already done. Also, know the names of producers and talent!
As far as sticking out: be the person that goes above and beyond. If there is an assignment after your normal nine to five shift, stay late. Something on the weekend? Be there. And pitch stories! Don’t make your producer constantly come to you. Even if you get shot down, keep pitching. And remember, no assignment is too small. When I was at the local Portland TV station, we begged a producer to stay late so we could read off the anchors tape and cut out own highlight reels. That was really helpful for me to have.
How do you feel about tracking the progress of your work in the internship? Would it be too much to ask for evaluations from the people who I work with?
CG: I say give it time. Seek critiques on your second project. You will know a little bit more about how you are supposed to do work for the outlet.
MA: Seek feedback. But don’t forget it’s easier to fix things before they go to print or on web or the package airs. So if you have a complex story, seek out your editor or producer beforehand.
I have just begun researching different graduate schools. Is there a time to do an internship while in grad school?
MA: I can’t speak from experience but from what I have heard, it depends. For instance, I know Columbia J-school doesn’t recommend it. They put you to work. I know [NABJ Student Representative] Wilton [Jackson] has done internships while in graduate school at LSU so I think it depends on your specific program and how many credits you take. It also depends if you can balance keeping your grades up and having an internship.