And the best internships are at….

As part of a project I’m working on, I have interviewed more than two dozen journalists in the past two weeks. It’s an invigorating, exciting experience, talking to so many smart, creative, passionate people who love what they — and I — do.

One of the most interesting threads coming out of those interviews is what the younger journalists says about their summer internships. I asked those who had multiple internships, which was the best. Their answers were counter-intuitive and consistent; the smallest news organization was the best.

Here’s why:

* Smaller organizations provide journalists wider opportunities to do different things. Smaller orgs need versatile general assignment reporters to plug into their operations. The interns help solve manpower shortages caused by summer vacations. And the interns loved the range of experiences.

* Interns cover “real” stories at smaller places. Some of those working at large organizations ended up compiling lists, rewriting news releases and, figuratively speaking, moving a pile of paper from the in-basket to the out-basket.

* Smaller organizations have less bureaucracy, so that there are fewer hoops to jump through to do something…anything, really. Turf battles are either lessen or easier to resolve. Often, editors welcome experiments from interns.

* Interns at smaller organizations got plenty of feedback from editors and friendship from the fulltime journalists. They felt as if they were treated as equals, which was both important.

The lesson for college students? Bigger isn’t always better. The New York Times or USA Today or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution may have more cache, but you could easily get a more valuable learning experience at the smaller places.

The lesson for media organizations? Interns are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside …. Oh, wait. That’s Whitney Houston. Pay attention to them and make their experience the best you can. It repays you.

4 thoughts on “And the best internships are at….

  1. Agreed. My internship at a larger paper did pretty much nothing to prepare me for my first job at a smaller paper.

  2. If you asked any of The Pilot’s three interns (and they’re at Chapel Hill, so you can find ’em) I’m sure they’d agree 100 percent with you. They regularly were on A1 or other section fronts, they shot their own photos, laid out some of their own stories/pages, wrote op/ed columns, shot and produced video and were treated like they were part of the staff…because they were. They came to weekly staff meetings and came up with stories or gamely took on others. They ended up with well-rounded internships that I’m confident they would NOT have gotten at a large daily. There, they would have been stuck on night cop shifts listening to scanners, filling out lists, writing meaningless filler for annual tabs, and other trivial crap. And I’ll take each of them back next year if they’ll have us.

  3. I would definitely agree. I was worried about getting an internship this summer as sophomore with almost no journalism experience. I knew I didn’t have the credentials to land a position at the Atlanta Journal Constitution so I opted for a position at The Gwinnett Daily Post, a community paper that is second to the AJC in circulation in Georgia.
    This small newspaper provided me with a lot of independence and mobility. I was able to go out into my community and interview people, cover events and profile local businesses. My writing portfolio gained diversity and I had the added benefit of an editor that was willing to mentor me.
    Had I worked at a larger newspaper, I would have most likely spent my time researching leads for other journalist. Instead, I wrote by own and even got my first front-pager!

  4. I was an intern on the copy desk at the News & Record in the summer of 1989, and it was a great experience. I guess Greensboro is a “medium” on the scale, but I learned a tremendous amount about journalism — and made some friends that I am still in touch with.

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