10 Tips For a Successful Journalism Internship

The first day of a journalism internship can be scary. New place, new people, new everything. Many summer internships offer orientation programs. They may vary from informal introductions to full-blown equipment training lessons. Or, you may be paired with a mentor who will show you how things work. Whether or not your internship has a formal program, here are 10 tips for success:

1. Know the media outlet. Even before you start your internship, regularly read the organization's website to familiarize yourself with the community and/or issues it covers, the type of coverage it provides and its writing style. Also read what others say about your media company: what's in trade magazines, such as American Journalism Review, or on websites, like Jim Romenesko's Media News. Once there, read the company's newsletter and talk to employees about developments at the company. Others will pick up on your interest and you will be treated like an involved employee.

2. First impressions count. Make an effort to smile and enthusiastically greet each new person you meet. It will pay dividends. You may think you won't remember them, but many of them will remember you. They may be less inclined to help you if you greeted them with slumped shoulders and a shrug on that first day.

3. Get oriented. Find out where to park, how to answer the phones and how to operate the computers. Be sure to find out whom your supervisor is and where your work station is located.

4. Know your schedule. If your supervisor doesn't set up a work schedule with specified work hours and days, ask for one. Get a typical start and finish time, although be aware this may occasionally shift because news can happen at any time and, consequently, journalists often don't work a standard 9-to-5 workday. If you're working six or more hours per day, you should get a lunch break. Once your schedule is set, stick to it -- don't ask for days off to write a term paper or to go to a concert. Hold up your end of the bargain.

5. Get organized. Write down important names and phone numbers as you are introduced to people, whether they be coworkers or sources for stories. Keep track of all your duties, assignments and due dates. Create a "To Do" list for the current day along with a calendar for later or longer-term assignments. If you have multiple things to do, ask your mentor or boss for priorities. Show your supervisor that you can be counted on to turn in an assignment ahead of schedule.

6. Do each job well. No matter how small, each task is important. Even menial tasks are necessary at a prestigious magazine or a popular newscast. Show your boss that you can be relied upon to do any job. Over time, you will be given more responsibilities. Responsibility brings opportunity, and opportunity opens the door to success.

7. Act professional. Be polite and courteous. Observe how the most successful employees spend their time and mimic them. Avoid inappropriate comments and offensive jokes. Erase that "party" message on your cell phone's voicemail. Be business-like.

8. Let curiosity be your guide. Ask a lot of questions. It's the only way to learn and it's the best way to get involved. After a few days, you should begin to figure out who will answer questions and who won't. Stick with those who are helpful. Avoid asking questions when people seem stressed. Instead, write down your question and save it for a less hectic moment.

9. Keep expectations in check. Remember, you are an intern, a beginner, the low person on the totem pole. Don't expect to go on business trips or to be given high-profile assignments. Everybody starts at the bottom. Be aware of boundaries. If you are in an unionized workplace, there may be certain tasks you aren't allowed to do. Also, if you don't know how to use a certain piece of equipment, don't try to use it until you've been trained.

10. Believe in yourself. Remember what got you the internship: all the classes you took, all the work you did, all the dreams you had. Not everyone gets this opportunity. Ultimately, your internship will be what you make it. That starts with valuing yourself and the contribution you can make. If you want your supervisor to believe in you, you must believe in yourself first.


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