One year ago, we wrote a “What’s Your Internship?” story about Sarah Radmer who was interning for Pacific Publishing (which includes Queen Anne & Magnolia News, City Living, and Madison Park Times). She is now a full-time reporter there and mentored undergraduate Annie Wilson through her first journalism internship last spring. As of last month, Wilson is graduated with degrees in English and Journalism, but she took the time to write the reflection below to help guide current journalism students.
“Sometimes the best way I learn is by experience, especially with journalism,” Wilson said. “It was helpful to practice the skills and strategies I learned in the classroom in a professional environment, while still being able to check-in and receive support from UW teachers.”
While Wilson is now enrolled in the UW’s Masters in Teaching Program, she plans to write for a publication in the future, focusing on education-based issues. Here’s what she learned while pursuing and succeeding in an internship with the Madison Park Times:
Your Best Journalism Internship in 10 Steps
Let me preface this “how-to” article with the knowledge that I am not an expert in the field of internships. Rather, this was my first internship, let alone journalism internship. However, the expansive experience I have gained over this last quarter has potentially leveled me to the ranks of 50 million internships! Eh, probably not. But it has shared with me an invaluable journalistic experience that has helped me develop as a reporter and overall person.
Madison Park Times exposed me to the challenges of community journalism, while also showing me how large of an impact it makes on local residents. My editor, Vera Chan-Pool, and the paper’s main reporter, Sarah Radmer, consistently taught me different reporting tricks, new organizational skills, polished old habits and ultimately strengthened the way I conduct myself as a reporter. Their inspiring words and enthusiasm in the midst of stressful deadlines and overwhelming articles was encouraging and invited a new perspective on a sometimes stressful field.
As a journalist there are tough questions to ask, challenging articles to write, and various pressures to deliver at different standards. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. These stresses began to fade once I realized that the questions are fair to ask, the articles become faster to write, and the external pressures dissipated into one standard: to deliver at my highest capability.
So here it is, a list to help give you the best, less-stressful, and invaluable journalism internship.
- The Search: Make sure to scan all the news sources you are interested in working for. Even if they aren’t advertising to hire an intern, who knows—they might want you! Before my internship I had never heard of Madison Park Times, nor were they hiring, but nevertheless I sent them an email. Turns out they were interested and invited me to an interview.
- The Interview: To prepare, I read up on their latest online articles and scoped out their editor and reporter on LinkedIn (it’s not creepy, it’s professional!). Turned out Madison Park Times is just one of three publications the organization manages (the other two are Queen Anne News and City Living Seattle). This expanded my reading and ultimately opened up my internship to the complexities of multiple Seattle neighborhoods. During the interview, make sure to reference several of their articles. Also, bring several of your own articles to share along with your resume. One last piece of advice: make sure to end the interview with a question(s).
- Setting a Schedule: Once you’re “in,” find a schedule that works well for you and your news source. Share your class hours, work hours, and transportation situation then go from there—hopefully they will be accommodating as long as you are eager to put in the time. I learned that being honest about my busy schedule and not trying to overload myself on certain days was the best strategy to find a solid intern schedule.
- Weekly Meetings: Each week I met with the editor and main reporter to discuss upcoming and future articles for the papers. If this is a thing for you, make sure to always have several article ideas ready. Need help finding articles? Visit the neighborhood! Grab some coffee at a local café or just take a stroll through the downtown area. I did this in Madison Park and within 10 minutes I found out there was a series of graffiti tags from the night before. Even if it seems like a small, sometimes petty story, locals are invested and interested in their community and want to know about it, so pitch it! Even more, when others share their own story ideas, ask them questions or pitch in new angles/expansions.
- Finding your Rhythm: Writing articles can be tough, especially when your sources won’t call you back for an interview. This adds up when you have multiple articles to write on pressing deadlines. With many late-nighters working on articles, I finally learned how to manage it—I found my rhythm. I learned to make phone calls and send emails immediately after being assigned a story. This gave me time to work on other stories with earlier deadlines while I waited for sources to reply. As a master of procrastination it took a while to find this rhythm, but once I did my stress levels went down tenfold. Trust me, non-procrastination is the way to go!
- Phoning-in: One of the biggest journalism tricks I learned over my internship is the power of the phone interview. Before I always thought interviews had to be in person, but I was wrong. Sarah told me she conducted many of her interviews over the phone, and soon I did too. It’s definitely a time efficient way to talk to multiple sources and write articles quickly. At the same time, in-person interviews are still valuable especially if the piece is more personal and intimate.
- Making Friends/Stay Late: Take time to soak in your surroundings. Check out the building, see the printing press, meet the owner, and see what other departments help make the paper possible. Even more, put in extra time to see the laying-out of a paper. One night I stayed late to help the editor choose the headlining stories, taglines and last minute editing on the cover and inside pages. The next week I held a solid form—the paper—of all our work that night.
- Questions?: If your editor assigns you a story but you don’t really know what angle to take on it—ask! Many times when I didn’t know where to start with a story I checked in with Vera or Sarah to see what type of sources to talk to, what questions to ask them, what kind of pictures to take, etc. Once the article is written and published I’m usually pretty tired of it and just want to move onto the next; but, taking it a step further and asking my editor how I did helped open me up to new perspectives and growth for my future articles. Editors are usually extremely busy, so stay time-conscious, but from my experience people are usually willing to help you report better (especially if it’s for their publication).
- Being “Mean” is “Nice”: When assigned stories that force you to directly question a source’s moral integrity face-to-face, it can be tricky. This description somewhat exaggerates my real situation, but accurately describes what it felt like to write one of the trickiest articles I have ever been assigned. Before the big interview with my sources I made a list of questions, which I eventually asked all but one. The question I left out was of course, the scariest one but also most critical since it addressed the overarching thread of my article. Embarrassed, I later followed up with the question, which honestly wasn’t hard asking. They needed to share their side of the story to make the article fair. I learned that asking the hard questions is not “mean” but actually “nice” and necessary to present all sides of the story.
- Relax: It’s really easy to stress out as a journalist; there are pressing deadlines, unresponsive sources, sources criticizing you, writers block, you name it. But before you develop a nervous twitch, take a breath and realize that (though your story is really important) just because it has one less source or one less picture or maybe it reads horribly, the zombie apocalypse will not ignite because of it. If your situation is really tough, talk to your editor. Mine was extremely understanding when one of my articles wasn’t turning out the way it was supposed to. Editors are people too; they realize that life happens, unreliable sources happen and sometimes it just takes a little more time to write an article.