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Back in the Newsroom: What I learned as a USA Today intern

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Back in the Newsroom: What I learned as a USA Today intern

Terrance Smith | June 20, 2017

In February, as I started my 10-week, ICFJ Back in the Newsroom Fellowship, I looked forward to immersing myself in journalism and all aspects of what USA Today did.

As a senior entering my last semester at Morgan State University, I was honored to be selected for what was essentially a paid internship with a strong mentoring component. Even more exciting was the chance to work a leading national daily newspaper and absorb everything they had to offer.

The biggest surprise when I started was when I found out I would be working with the video team and not writing articles. It was a bit of a shock because I am a print journalism major. Since I had done work with video before the fellowship, I knew I was up to the challenge. In the end, I realized that working with USA Today’s video team probably was one of the greatest things that could have happened for my journalism career.

Thanks to this experience, I was able to use the skills I picked up to enhance my senior capstone project – a video focusing on three different generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. I was able to take advantage of the many resources at USA Today to tell the story I envisioned for that project. I presented the video, which is on my website, in my senior media experience class.

The newspaper’s focus on social media and video also gave me a first-hand perspective on how dramatically the journalism landscape has changed. I learned the vital role video plays in storytelling, how it captures the attention of audiences and is used to emphasize written storytelling.

I also learned to adapt to USA Today’s editorial style and workflow strategies. For example, I was exposed to the process of pitching stories that work on a national scale. The learning curve was sometimes frustrating as I pitched ideas that the team might already have started working on. These skills will serve me in my future work as a professional journalist.

Thinking about my time at USA Today as an ICFJ Back in the Newsroom Fellow, I have some tips to share with other students who have the opportunity to intern at a major news outlet.

  • Be open to the experience. I was willing to learn every day I went into the newsroom. I was willing to take in information and when I wasn’t sure about what needed to be done, I asked questions.
  • Be prepared and especially be sure you are well-versed on the news and current events. This may sound obvious, but I remember a time when I wasn’t prepared to discuss a news story. After that, I made sure I was prepared every day before stepping into the office.
  • Make connections in the newsroom. Do not be afraid to network and talk to people. Step out of your comfort zone and make an impression on people in the newsroom. Most people, if not all, are willing to help if you treat them with kindness and respect.
  • Do not let yourself get in the way. Do not doubt your abilities. If you are ever presented with the chance to have a fellowship or internship, remember that you were selected for a reason. You are capable of doing the work necessary for a national daily newspaper.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity. There are thousands of students across the country who are vying for the same chance that you have. Be thankful and utilize every second you have in the newsroom.

I am now graduating college and interviewed with USA Today’s For The Win team, a sports vertical. This opportunity was a direct outcome of my fellowship.

Not many fellowships are designed for people of color — who, according to a 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors, make up 12.76 percent of journalists in daily newsrooms. The Back in the Newsroom Fellowship, which aims to improve diversity in newsrooms, did more than just expose me to cutting-edge newsroom practices. It gave me a chance to prove myself in a challenging environment – a chance I might not otherwise have had as a student from a historically black university in Baltimore.

Terrance Smith recently graduated from Morgan State University and is now a Pulliam Fellow at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, which is part of the USA Today network.

Image of Terrance Smith (right) with Brent Jones, standards and recruitment editor at USA Today, courtesy of Ron Taylor.

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