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The Journalist's Road to Success

Internships: Don't Leave School Without One


Joe Grimm As you choose the college that can be your best road to a journalism career, put some thought into the vehicle that will get you there: your internships.

College, all by itself, will not be enough to give you a good start. You'll need internships-more than one-to complete your education and to show editors what you can do.

Plus, think about how awful you would feel if you spent all this time working to get into journalism but didn't find out until after you had graduated that it wasn't a good fit for you. We think it probably will be a good fit, but an internship helps you make sure.

As important as college is, a person with great internships and an average education will be better off than a person with a great education and no experience. You want to be well prepared in both areas.

Internships are real-world working experiences. The classroom is no substitute for the real thing and the campus newspaper, while good, isn't either. You want to get into a professional newsroom to show what you can do and to see how well you like it. A good internship will pay you to do real work.

You will report and write stories, edit copy, take pictures and design pages-though generally not all in the same internship. Your boss will be a real editor, not another student or a professor. And the person working next to you will be a pro. Internships are usually awarded in the summer, when most students are out of school and when a lot of journalists like to take vacations. Television and magazine internships are usually unpaid. Newspapers usually pay their interns. The biggest newsrooms pay more than $500 a week. But you'll have to work your way up to them.

Start doing internships early. Still in high school? Ask for an appointment at the local newspaper to apply for any kind of experience they can offer. For high school students, it may be called a co-op, an apprenticeship, an externship or it may have no name at all. The name doesn't matter at this stage. One student went to a high school that let her spend her last month of school working in a newsroom. Right after she graduated from college, she was hired by The Wall Street Journal. That month of volunteering helped make that happen.

Colleges sometimes tell students to wait until they are juniors or seniors to apply. Don't listen to that. Start early and work often. You may not be ready to work in the big newsrooms when you're a first-year student, so work somewhere smaller.

Apply early. Most big summer internships are filled by the first of the year. Apply early and keep trying until you land something. Most internships require you to submit examples of your published work, and you can get those by working for the school paper.

Apply far and wide. We know one very qualified graduate student who failed to get an internship in the San Francisco Bay area, where she wanted to be, while a less-qualified undergrad at the same university pushed her career along by getting an internship in North Dakota, which she had never seen. Don't be afraid to live in a new city. Someone at the paper will help you find a place to live.

Experiment with your internships. Find out what you really like to do. You may want to do the same thing every year, but you don't need to. It can be a lot of fun and make you better to report one summer and to edit copy the next, or to write news and then business and then features.

Newspaper internships are a great way to have some fun in journalism while preparing yourself to a fast, confident start in your career. The money, the friends and the chance to see the country count for a lot, too, but the best reasons to intern are for what it does to help your career.

Joe Grimm was recruiting and development editor at the Detroit Free Press, where he coordinated the internship program. He also has a website with all kinds of newspaper career advice at

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