10 internship alternatives for the COVID-19 era

Jun 11, 2020 in Journalism Basics
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This article is part of our online coverage of reporting on COVID-19. To see more resources, click here

It’s an understatement to say that it’s a challenging time to be a journalist right now. 

Across the U.S. alone, more than 36,000 jobs in news media organizations have been affected by layoffs, furloughs or reduced hours. And these figures do not include the countless internships that have been lost as many newsrooms have shuttered, or postponed, these programs. 

This represents a real conundrum, especially for many young journalists, who rely on internships to garner the newsroom experience that is often a prerequisite for many jobs. Some news and media outlets will not consider you unless you have two, or more, internships on your resume.

Against the backdrop of reduced opportunities — but the continued need for internship experiences and professional development — how should journalists respond

Here are 10 key ideas:

(1) Remember, newsrooms are still hiring (including interns)

A number of media organizations are offering remote internships and other journalism roles that are 100% home-based. Aside from applying for these opportunities, journalists should also explore whether other outlets are amenable to the possibility of remote working.

For journalists, and journalism students, working remotely as a result of the coronavirus means that you can demonstrate your ability to produce work for a distributed newsroom. That is valuable experience that should not be overlooked.

(2) If your internship is canceled, see if you can nudge it back

Although many summer internship programs have been canceled, this doesn’t mean that the opportunity has disappeared. If you can, ask if you can nudge it back to the fall when public health challenges may not be so pronounced. 

One of my students, Renata Geraldo, was able to do this with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Instead of working for them over the summer, she deferred her internship to the fall, at which point she hopes to be able to work out of the WSJ’s New York headquarters, rather than her home in Portland, Oregon. Renata was also able to use this rescheduling to take up an additional, remote internship with Bloomberg this summer.

(3) Don’t underestimate the value of student media

When McClatchy’s Mandy Jenkins visited the University of Oregon last summer, one of the key messages she shared with students was the value of experience in college media.

Traditionally, staffing levels drop considerably over the summer break, creating an opportunity for enterprising journalists to get more clips, network, try out new beats and develop storytelling chops.

Student media outlets are also a great place to gain management experience, get used to working to deadline and deliver meaningful work. At a time of growing news deserts, many student, and student-led outlets are covering stories and beats beyond campus that no one else is covering.

(4) Be entrepreneurial and create your own products/platforms 

What's missing in terms of stories and content? Can you fill that gap? There are many ways to do that, including working as a freelancer, as well as publishing on Medium, IGTV and YouTube or starting a podcast. 

Of course, monetization is a challenge. But news deserts and coverage gaps have encouraged some journalists and entrepreneurs to start their own publications. 

In the Pacific Northwest, Chas Hundley publishes “Oregon's smallest weekly newspaper.” He established The Gales Creek Journal in the town he grew up in (population 655) after high school. The online and print publication, and its sister publication The Banks Post, cover far west Washington County and the Tillamook State Forest.

Further north, West Seattle blog has been reporting 24/7 for over a decade. The site has more than 60,000 Twitter followers and 35,000 Facebook fans. Could you follow in their footsteps? 

[Read more: Want to start podcasting? Here are some tips.]

(5) Devise your own learning program

There are many great resources available for journalists who want to keep up to date with the latest industry discussions, develop new skills or brush up on old ones. 

This includes free training resources from Google, disinformation specialists First Draft, Poynter and the New York-based Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. 

Journalists can harness these materials to develop their own learning program and advance at their own pace — in many cases for free. Some programs also come with completion certificates, if that matters to you.

(6) Go freelance

Freelancing can be tough, and it’s not for everyone. However, despite there being fewer internships and permanent newsroom roles available right now, many editors are still looking for contributors. 

Community sites like Study Hall offer a means to find opportunities, network and keep track of job listings and pitch calls. Membership starts at US$4 a month.

You can find pitch guidelines on many websites, as well as on Twitter and Medium. Cold-pitches can also work if you have a specialization (topic, skillset, or geographic location) that outlets are looking for right now. 

[Read more: How do journalists find their story ideas?]

(7) Consider other places where your skills can be used

Journalists have highly valuable, and transferable, skillsets. The ability to write, produce multimedia content and tell stories is sought after in a variety of settings.  

That opens up possibilities in public relations and corporate communications, as well as producing content for businesses. For example, several of my students have experience managing social media for the companies they work for outside of school.

(8) Network like crazy

Now is the perfect time to reforge old connections and make new ones. Embrace informational interviews and catch-ups with former colleagues and sources. You never know where those conversations might lead, and they’ll be useful and informative, regardless.

This term, I have charged my students with conducting an informational interview. Very few of them had done these before, and the idea terrified many of them. Yet, unfailingly, these conversations were helpful, and journalists were incredibly generous with their time. 

Unsure how to do this? Here’s a Google Doc I compiled with some useful tips and templates. 

(9) Put your digital house in order

We seldom have the time to refine and update our online portfolios, so a bit of quiet time right now is a great opportunity to redress that. 

Spruce up your LinkedIn, and ensure your portfolio website features your best and most recent clips. If you don’t have a portfolio site, now is the time to build one

Start to engage more in conversations on Twitter, Facebook Groups and Reddit threads. Ensure that when people search for you, you’re putting your best digital foot forward.

(10) Get up to speed with what’s happening in your industry

Read the trade press, join webinars, sign-up for relevant newsletters and keep abreast of the latest industry developments. 

Understanding the latest industry trends can be a key differentiator in the hiring process, enabling you to communicate the strategic challenges facing prospective employers, as well identifying emerging trends, opportunities and outlets to tap into. 

Doing this can give you an advantage over your peers. And in this day and age, especially, you should grab every little bit of competitive edge with both hands.

Damian Radcliffe is the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, a fellow of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, an honorary research fellow at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture Studies, and a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).