This past summer I had the opportunity to intern as a general assignment reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada. I wrote 30 stories over 10 weeks on a span of topics from business to crime to politics. Two made the front page.
I think a lot of the success this past summer came from having learned from my mistakes at previous internships. Here’s what I learned:
Getting the internship
I landed my paid internship through a program started by NAHJ-Nevada. A professor told me to apply for it and wrote me a letter of recommendation. It’s worth noting that I had done a good job in that professor’s class, so she remembered me when this opportunity came up. Just another reason to do well in class.
There are paid internship opportunities out there, but you need to seek them out. Websites like journalismjobs.com are a start. Your college or journalism department might have a blog with internship opportunities. You can also ask your college professors about opportunities. College professors are sometimes asked by friends working in the field for input on applicants or recommendations.
Gatherings like CCNMA’s Journalism Opportunities Conference are also a great resource to build relationships with recruiters and learn about what opportunities are available. I met my mentor at the JOC conference two years ago. I had hastily put together a resume with work experience at ROSS and KFC. I had no idea where to begin, but I kept in touch and got feedback on my resume, clips and cover letter. It can be tough, but try to keep in touch with the professionals you meet. They are invaluable resources.
The Reporter Prepares
Most importantly, come prepared. Read the newspaper or media outlet that you are going to be working at and come ready with story ideas. Where are they lacking coverage?
You need to be reading or watching news from the media outlet you work at. If something breaks and they need you to write a story or follow up on something you haven’t been paying attention to, then you’ll be in trouble.
Don’t wait for editors to assign you stories. That will happen for sure, but if you’re prepared when you come in, you’ll have your own ideas to pitch and those are usually the most rewarding stories to write. Ask other reporters if there are stories they can’t get to and ask your editor if you can spend some time talking to potential sources. When you go cover daily stories, keep an eye out for other ideas. Exchange information with people you meet and make sure to keep in touch. This is one of the best ways to show your value: Proving that you can build sources within a new community and report on issues that other publications aren’t paying attention to. That, and being able to do it in-between whatever else your editor throws your way.
Getting the most out of your internship
It’s important to be assertive in order to get the most out of your internship. If there’s something you want to do like shoot photos for a day or cover a different beat, you should ask. Your supervisor might say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. It also shows your supervisor that you’re hungry to learn and eager to take on anything.
Be willing to work weekends. Those are actually prime days to work at a newspaper, because if you get a good scoop or write a strong story, there’s a greater chance it could land on Monday’s front page. My biggest learning experience came when I volunteered to cover the NAACP conference on a Sunday. I was excited about it, then they told me it would be running front page the next day and that I wouldn’t be working with my regular editors since they were out. I also had a dirty deadline of 10 p.m. No exceptions, it had to go to print.
It was nerve-racking, but I prevailed and it was awesome.
It’s important to make sure you’re communicating with your editors. Sometimes we feel intimidated and think we should know something. We don’t want to feel stupid. Someone once said: “The only stupid question is the one not asked.” If you don’t understand something, then how will your readers?
Asking editors and reporters out to lunch is also worthwhile. It’s an informal way to ask for advice and learn more about what you want to do for the rest of your life. Ask them how they got started, how they got to where they are now.
Got your own tips? Share them in the comments below!