The dreaded 'I' word. Rightly or wrongly, internships have become an absolute 'must' for graduates wanting to break into journalism. You tend to hear about the more negative aspects of interning - endless tea-making, pitiable travel expenses (should you just keep the fiver and walk the 7 miles home?!), mundane tasks and feeling like a spare part. However, I would like to shed light on the positive side of interning which does not involve stuffing envelopes whilst simultaneously crushing your soul.
I briefly Googled internships before writing this post to see what internships are currently out there. Unsurprisingly, Gumtree came up with an array of intriguing options from the mind-numbingly dull (data entry internships) to the downright dodgy (lingerie modelling internship: open-mindedness a must)! There are lots of suspicious ones out there, so use your noodle. If they're offering 'expinsez' in location 'unspesified', it's probably not legitimate.
Dodgy ones aside, there are some decent opportunities to be found but you need to know where to look. The work placement sectionof graduatejobs.com is a good place to start. For more journalism-specific sites try Gorkana, mediauk.com, journalism.co.ukand holdthefrontpage.co.uk. Your university's careers centre should also be a good resource for work placements and internships.
I make no claims to be an internship pundit, but I did have a very positive internship experience last summer at hellomagazine.com in Madrid. Although previously I had a lengthy CV with jobs ranging from zoo assistant to cowgirl, I felt I needed something a little less 'gap year' and little more serious.
I wasn't dead-set on journalism when I applied to hellomagazine.com and my relevant writing experience was limited to blogging, but I knew that the internship would be a sure indicator as to whether a career in journalism was for me or not.
I found the internship through my university where it was advertised as a year-long year abroad work placement. The first time I applied for it I didn't get it (understandably, given that I didn't fulfil many of the criteria). However, a few months later having got some blogging experience and now able to prove a commitment to journalism, I was offered a three month summer internship.
My internship was split between the online marketing and editorial departments. I had a variety of daily tasks to keep on top of which included social media, site statistics, monitoring competitor sites, updating blogs, translating articles from hola.com into English, writing news bites and sourcing photos.
Hellomagazine.com was my first real office experience and that in itself was a learning curve. In a busy office environment it is easy to see how an intern might get overlooked. I'd be lying if I said there weren't moments when I felt a tiny bit useless. Cue my first piece of advice: if you find yourself in that situation, ask for something to do. The team were always delighted when I offered to help them with whatever they were working on.
Better still, findsomething to do. I always felt our Facebook fan page was a bit below par and could be easily improved. So I researched our competitor pages, looked at what I thought worked well and what did not and produced a little report on what I felt we could improve on, what were already doing well as well as coming up with some new suggestions. I presented my findings during a meeting and the team was very receptive to the report. They approved the changes as well as responding with their own suggestions and as a result, Facebook fan interaction was greatly improved.
Frankly, before I started at hellomagazine.com I was hopeless with technology. Excel positively terrified me, Photoshop was about as familiar as the moon and Twitter was just a silly fad that would soon pass. My Twitter target was to Tweet every 10-12 minutes to our circa 20,000 followers. What the monkeys was I going to Tweet without losing hundreds of followers per Tweet?! Thankfully my IT skills swiftly improved and everything that had daunted me at the start soon became second nature.
By the time I had finished my internship, I had made my mind up to pursue journalism. I needed to build up a portfolio by getting some writing experience during my final year at university. By contributing to my student paper and writing my food blog I was able to boost my Twitter presence and this led to invitations to write guest blogs such as this one.
I also contributed to a hyper local blog, Beyond Guardian Leeds, which covers Leeds' cultural and community news. Writing for them meant I was invited to press events which in turn provided great networking opportunities to meet local journalists and bloggers who had plenty of good advice for me. I also got offered a weekly slot on BBC Radio Leedsto give a weekly round-up of news and events on the blog. Sadly I had to turn this down as I was leaving Leeds but it is proof that it is worth getting involved in smaller, local projects as they have the potential to lead to bigger and better things. All of this writing experience undoubtedly helped my NCTJ Diploma application.
Having work experience is vital to the successful completion of the NCTJ Diploma. The course is comprised of different modules, one of which is the portfolio. I am doing my course at News Associates in Wimbledon where you spend Monday to Thursday in the classroom and Fridays working at a news outlet where you are expected to build your portfolio. Finding this Friday placement is no small task and this is where previous work experience and the useful contacts you made (and hopefully kept) may come in handy.
Having been a reliable and enthusiastic intern at hellomagazine.com, the team made it clear that I was welcome back once I had finished my degree. Needless to say I made the very easy decision to go back to Madrid for the summer. Having built on my previous experience by writing throughout my final year and with my NCTJ in the pipeline, the editor knew I was dedicated to a career in journalism. So this summer I will be taking on more responsibility than I did last summer in my new role as 'Lifestyle Assistant' and will even be earning a little salary (huzzah)! To say that I'm excited would be an understatement. I'll report back soon with the juicy details!