Interning: Keep your mom out of it

Would you sign up for a job that was 60 hours a week, paid nothing and you ended up sweaty and dirty every day – despite having to show up in a suit to the office?

Odds are, most people would say no.

But for those of us in journalism, we line up – in droves. 

This is the life of a broadcast news intern.

Once upon a time….

In 1994, I landed a prestigious internship at WISH-TV in Indianapolis. At the time, it was home to the #1 news team, and a legendary News Director – Lee Giles. Lee reminded you of someone’s grandpa, and was very nice to the interns – unless you disappointed him. But he wouldn’t scream or throw things when he was disappointed. If you showed up at a meeting unprepared, for example, he would send you out of the room. If you returned back from a shoot without any “people” sound, he would send you back out on the street to get it; even if you were going to miss your deadline as a result. Didn’t matter. If it wasn’t good enough, you had to go make it better.

The lessons I learned during that internship planted the seeds of a super journalist in me, and I took a lot of those lessons into news management and other intern programs I ran across the country.

It’s your internship

It sounds funny when I say it out loud to young people. “This is your internship, so make the most of it.” They have no idea what I’m talking about, because typically – up until now – a “grownup” has told them what to do, where to go, what to read, etc. But in an internship, you are now the grownup. It’s not up to your internship coordinator to hold your hand, or guide you to learn something new. 

If it looks interesting, ask to do it. 

Don’t know what someone is doing? Ask them (in an appropriate time, not 10 minutes until a deadline). 

Want to go out on a story? Ask.

Ask. Ask. Ask. 

They might actually say yes.

Get your hands dirty

When journalism students tell me they landed a big internship at ESPN or CNN, I applaud their tenacity and ability to land the gig, but I also tell them they’ll need to intern at a local news organization. At WISH, if I found a story, they’d send me out on it. Sometimes with a reporter, sometimes I was the reporter. When you’re at a smaller shop/newsroom, you get more hands-on experience. Then, when it comes time to get the first job out of college – hiring managers know this. They see it on your resume or resume reel, they know that you went out in the field and got dirty to do it.  Going to work with the “big dogs” is prestigious, but doesn’t get you the hands on experience that puts you ahead of the pack when you graduate.

Don’t sh*t where you eat

There was an intern, a few years ahead of us, who had written a long rant about how he hated everyone in the newsroom. He called them out by name, talked about their personal issues, and then – he printed it. At the time, those documents would go into a print/send file that everyone could access. And I mean everyone. Someone found it in the file, printed it out and posted it  – all around the newsroom. It was left everywhere, as a warning to interns that came after him.

The lesson here? Don’t like who you work with? Keep it to yourself or tell a trusted friend later. It does you no good to be ungrateful at your internship. They will remember how childish you acted, and this won’t help you get a job later. (And you might end up working with them again – it’s a very small business.)

Keep your mom out of it

This is good advice for when you’re interning or out in the job pool. Don’t have a parent call your boss to complain about your work schedule. I once had a cub reporter’s mom call me because little Timmy* had to work Thanksgiving and she had big plans for him. I had to explain to her that he was my employee, not her, and I couldn’t discuss personnel issues with her. Seriously. And it wasn’t the last time someone’s mom called… 

Eyes and ears open

Keep your eyes and ears open. What do you see about the business? What are you hearing people say? You are going to spend an intense amount of time with these people and you can learn a lot about whether or not you really want to do this job when you graduate. It’s okay to decide it’s not for you – this is what the internship is for. It’s better to decide that now, than 10 years down the road.

Keep in touch

Finally, keep in touch with the people who helped you at your internship. They can become trusted mentors. They can become a reliable reference for your job search. And you never know, you might work with them again.

Dawn R. Dugle is a veteran journalist and news manager. She is now an author and keynote speaker who still has “newsmares” – that’s where she only has 10 minutes to produce an hour-long newscast… whew.



*name has been changed to protect the mortified