The benefits of internships. Lots of internships.

I read recently there is such thing as ‘doing too many internships’. Corinna vanGerwen writes in Masthead Online: “You can do as many as three, but more than that and potential job employers may ask why you haven’t found a job yet.”

I personally think this is the year to break that rule.

Jobs, especially ones in the journalism industry, are scarce. The declining economy, major cutbacks, decrease in advertising and general unstable future of the journalism industry make this situation even worse.

And while a number of places have been cutting back on their spots for students, this year is the perfect time for internships.

Think about it. Sure, there are fears of being overworked even more in these mostly unpaid positions and exploited for time and enthusiasm where there would normally be a unionized, full-time employee. But in the right place with the right mentors, this is the time where you’re going to be given even more opportunities to learn, as well as be at the center of some of the biggest changes in the journalism industry.

This summer I’ve signed up to work at Xtra! and Snowboard Canada Magazine. My professors have eagerly assured me that if I’m offered a job, I automatically get an A+ for my graded placement.

Let’s be honest, the likelihood of that situation is extremely slim, probably approaching none, really. But that’s why I’ve already planned how to make my resume the most attractive one after the recession is over – you know, when everyone can afford to hire again.

It doesn’t include doing just two or three internships. I plan on doing at least five. And here’s why I think other journalism students wouldn’t hurt doing equally as many by the time they graduate either.

More students are entering programs which are combinational (meaning they double major in journalism, communications, media studies and something else) or shorter, fast-track post-graduate ones in college. This means students literally get a few weeks to learn radio, television, magazine and news.

In my program, much of the learning was centered around newspaper production. From writing to photography to layout design and most of the program’s deeply-stressful deadlines, my class lived and breathed the life of a small newspaper staff for an entire year.

But it came to our magazine class, we didn’t talk about marketing, the ‘mushy-middle’, recruiting advertising or design. In my television class, I got the momentary experience of being floor manager, sports anchor and the weather reporter, but I couldn’t say I got a confident amount of practise doing all of the other jobs. And in radio, I don’t think I ever got to man the actual audio board even once.

The only thing I feel completely confident about after finishing the program is my abilities to write newspaper articles and magazine features. The amount of exposure to everything else wasn’t considerable.

Here’s where internships come in. I expect to learn at every internship I go to, but I expect the most at places where I’ve gotten the least amount of exposure. That means activist biweekly newspapers like Xtra! or EYE Weekly, enthusiast magazines like Snowboard Canada, political television shows like TVO’s The Agenda, and radio shows like CBC’s As It Happens. (All places I plan on working at, incidentally.) These are the places where I expect to see and do everything I did in journalism school, only this time it’ll stick because it will be the only thing I’ll be working on a daily basis, not trying to balance in between assignments for the three other news mediums.

Journalism school helped me figure out I’m interested in everything, know the important elements to a good story, not be afraid of interviewing strangers, the importance of working with others and the guts of putting all those things together. But a good part of me won’t take the word ‘student’ off of ‘student journalist’ before I finish all of the internships I plan to do, because those places will signify work I’ve done, not just class assignments.

Another thing that’s noticeable about my choices is the diversity of mediums. Some might argue it would be smarter to focus on a specific niche as an overall better way to establish experience and references for when the recession is over.

But the way I see it, after looking at how the overall industry is changing, internship work experience in all four mediums of journalism as well as online makes me the best candidate of all for getting a job, period. This strategy frees up where I can apply for contracts, freelance gigs or entry-level jobs, as opposed to individuals who have only worked in one particular media stream.

I expect most of my work will still be based in print as opposed to broadcast, but with more magazines and newspapers including podcasts and video segments as part of their online offerings, skills and experience in these fields can only help my chances of getting hired.

Now if only I could figure out some way to interview my way out of preparing for these non-journalism final exams…

Footnote: I understand that not everyone can afford to do an internship now, what with the cost of undergraduate degrees, rent, food, OSAP payments and whatnot, but I think most of the sacrifices made to enable an internship experience are well worth the contacts and real-world work experience gained. I’m personally putting off graduating and moving out for an entire year so I can do as many internships as I can before next summer’s hiring season.

If your personal situation means you can’t afford a 4-month placement, maybe a 6-week one at TVO or CBC would be preferable. I guarantee you would probably still learn a lot, gain valuable contacts and get to put into practise all the skills and interest you already have.

The most important thing is (as Royal Caribbean keeps saying) is to get out there and seize the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the industry before you graduate. That is, or at least before the next crop of crazy-enthusiastic candidates pop up.

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3 thoughts on “The benefits of internships. Lots of internships.

  1. Interesting take on thing. A year or two ago I would have said avoid internships, but having done one last year (which led to a job) I’ve come around. While 5 internships seems excessive to me I agree in that one should get as much experience as possible while STILL IN SCHOOL. And truth be told, you will probably learn more after a few weeks at an internship then you did through out your entire schooling.

    Specific numbers (of how many internships to do) seems arbitrary, it all depends on you situation. I would recommend to do as many as it takes to start getting work. The key is to be actively seeking work through your internship, rather than waiting for it to be over and expecting to get work.

    Cheers,
    Eugen S.

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