Tips on landing, and paying for, a first journalism internship

So, there used to be a journalism “track”, where you’d start out at a smaller paper, and work your way up. This still exists in theory, but the online world has turned this idea on its head. When looking for your first gig journalism gig, think outside the box and go for it. But take a moment to think first…

  • Reflect on what you’d want out of an internship. Write down some goals, some skills you’d like to learn, kinds of stories you’d like to cover, etc.
  • Look at your favorite news websites, and see what kind of opportunities they have. Make a list of your favorite journalists, and a list of your fav news organizations. Do any places accept first-time interns? What kind of experience would you need to one day intern at the news outlet you most admire?
  • Jot down a quick resume of what you’ve already done, and figure out how you can market yourself for a journalism internship. Do you work at your campus newspaper? Did you help a local non-profit make a newsletter? Do you manage a student organization’s social media account? Are you helping a professor do research by combing through public records? Did you get an article published in your college’s alumni magazine? If politics is your thing, did you work with a congressman or NGO last year? Did you write reports, etc?
  • Get some experience and get clips. This is why working for a school  paper is so crucial – these articles will be your way into a first internship. If the internship description also accepts writing samples, send in that beautiful nonfiction piece you wrote for your freshman seminar. Also, try freelancing to local magazines to amass more clips and experience.
  • Follow your heart, and follow great stories. It doesn’t matter where you intern, it matters what kind of stories you told, and how well you told them – and shared them.
  • Go to your school’s career center and have them look over your resume. If your school doesn’t have a journalism department, stalk the Northwestern, Berkeley, NYU, Mizzou, etc. websites for tips on tailoring resumes for journalism gigs.
  • This is all about making sure the experience works for you. Ask around your hometown and surrounding area, and see which newsrooms would allow you to both do good work, while also giving you constructive criticism and clear reasoning behind edits made to your story. TLDR: Find somewhere that’ll have the time for you.
  • Speaking of which, go home. For your first gig, it’ll likely be unpaid. Try finding somewhere close to where you live to save on rent. Or, maybe you have a weird aunt in NYC you can live with for the summer. Work three to four days a week rather than five, so you can get a weekend job. Ask your boss for a stipend – maybe they can’t afford to pay you minimum wage (-_-), but perhaps they can afford a $500 travel stipend. Also, see if they will reimburse you for gas.
  • Multimedia time! Learn the basics of audio, photo and video-editing, as well as rudimentary CSS/HTML. You don’t need to be a pro (unless you find out it’s your thing, then go for it!), it’ll just help you stand out if you have the basics.
  • Get on Twitter, Linkedin, About.me, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, etc.
  • Speaking of which, make sure your social media accounts are clean. Especially if you’re applying to social media gigs! They are definitely going to look. Change the spelling of your Facebook name, if you feel so compelled. Make sure your Twitter isn’t just you being like, “Going to the bathroom, loving life #yolo!” Nobody wants that.
  • Reach out to your networks. Join a professional journalism organization based on your interests and cultural backgrounds – they often have internship opportunities, stipends, trainings and annual conferences that allow you to both attend great sessions and meet internship recruiters face-to-face.
  • Also, be sure to check out state/regional news association, like the Illinois Press Association.
  • Speaking of networks, reach out to your college alumni network. Search for working journalists, and shoot them emails expressing your interest in journalism and asking their advice. Mentors ❤ They might know of great internship programs, perhaps even at their company!
  • Take risks. At your first internship, make a great impression (post on that to come!). Pitch lots of stories, and work with journalists you admire. Even while on the internship job-hunt, go off the beaten track. Tweet somebody at The Fix, and see if they could take on an intern. Even if a news outlet doesn’t have a structured internship opportunity (and many don’t), make your own opportunity. Make a personal connection and show what you can offer.
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