For most journalism majors, landing an internship is a vital step in securing work after graduation. Many perceive certain placements as more prestigious than others, but they aren't necessarily the best internships. Take the time to consider your options and pick a placement that best suits you.
Most journalists do a bit of everything, almost always including an online component. If you’re working at a newspaper, you’ll likely shoot and edit video for the Web. If you’re at a television station, you might repurpose a story to appear as text online. Rather than narrowing your focus to newspaper, television, radio, magazine, wire or online, just decide if you want exposure to a print or broadcast environment.
The major journalism centers in the United States are New York City, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you're set on landing a competitive placement with one of the big news organizations -- the Associated Press, Dow Jones, NPR, CNN, BBC, MSNBC, CBS News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, US Weekly, The Economist, NBC Universal, ESPN or USA Today -- be prepared to move. If you aren’t willing to go out of state, many local papers and television stations also offer placements.
Big vs. Small
Working for a bigger organization doesn’t mean a better experience. An intern at a New York-based magazine may end up working as an editorial assistant, while an intern at a small community newspaper may work as a reporter. During your internship, do you want to build your resume or do you want to build your portfolio? If you’re looking for clippings, working somewhere smaller might make more sense.
Paid vs. Unpaid
Paid internships do exist, but the pay will likely be low, and the competition will be fierce. If you accept an unpaid position, don’t be lax about your duties. Think of the internship as an extended interview that just might lead to a job later, so network and make good impressions. Also, always ask if you can get college credit.
Many look at internships as summer jobs, but short-term placements also exist. These often cover special events, such as election nights, the Olympics or a music or film festival. You'll probably just act as an extra set of hands behind the scenes. But you’ll be able to use the placement to help leverage you into a future internship or freelance work.
If you don’t land a journalism internship, consider applying for a fellowship or a volunteer journalism placement overseas. Public relations firms may also offer positions relevant to your major. Most organizations have a communications team, so call groups that interest you, such as an environmental charity, local hospitals or area politicians. Social media skills and the ability to make Web videos are also in demand. So if all else fails, make sure you freelance. If you’re having trouble pitching, use a freelancer site to promote what you’re good at, whether it’s writing, reporting, editing or shooting videos.
Based in Toronto, J.A. Zander has worked as a full-time journalist since 2004. Zander's work has appeared in Canadian and American magazines, newspapers and websites.