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Here’s What I Learned During the First Week of My Journalism Internship

The email I had waited weeks for had finally arrived. It flew swiftly past my Spotify artist updates, foodie recipes and end-of-year sale emails, and glided into my inbox. To say the least, I was elated.

An Orlando newspaper, which reports on everything from entertainment to business, selected me to cover the justice and safety desk. But I couldn't help wondering: why did they pick me? So many other students at my university had served on executive boards, qualified for journalism rewards, or served as the editor-in-chief of student-led magazines. Why me, the student who transferred schools amid a pandemic and held a meager writing position at her school newspaper? I asked myself those questions a lot. I used them as a defense mechanism when people awed and gawked at the internship I had been offered. “I don’t know why they picked me,” I’d say.

But nearly five months and a week later, I’ve realized that I earned this role. Through my persistence, agility, and dedication, I have proved that I didn’t have to be an editor at a school publication with a team of eight writers; I only needed to trust the judgement of the internship coordinator and trust that the work that I had done revealed that I deserved to be here. 

With summer internship season starting up, you might also be wondering if you have what it takes to put your best foot forward and show your publication you have what it takes to be a great writer. Here are the five things I’ve learned as I reflect on my first week of my internship, so that you can prepare for yours.

Everything you’ve done has prepared you for this moment

Before I began my internship, I often questioned what the organization saw in me. How did I stand out when I had no previous internship experience? I felt as though I didn’t deserve the opportunity. But okay, “negative self talk” — it’s time to find the exit. I began to realize the company picked me for a reason, and if it was a mistake, they would not have waited until now to tell me.

Impostor syndrome isn't new by any means, especially not for women. In fact, it's not even limited to interns — Forbes reported in 2020 on a study by KPMG that found that 75% of the women they surveyed had experienced impostor syndrome at some point. These women were in executive roles, meaning almost to the C-suite, so this problem goes all the way to the top. Of course, addressing an issue like this requires larger systemic change, but that doesn't mean you should just accept your individual negative thoughts as they are right now!

I like to consider all my previous unpaid work experience as a boot camp of sorts. The wee hours spent putting the finishing touches on stories as a general news assignment reporter for my school newspaper and the time spent practicing grammar and writing drills in Her Campus meetings is the reason I am here today. Stop allowing negative thoughts to creep into your mind exclaiming you’re not worthy when the internship knows that you are.

One thing I would’ve done differently: Let the nerves go. Do what you can to clear your mind, whether that be a walk, some meditation, a quick snack, or 30 minutes on TikTok. It’s best to start each day in a calm state.

Your editor probably won’t eat you alive

On my first day, my editor welcomed me to the team *virtually* with a flurry of dancing bananas and smiling emojis — to say the least, I was caught off-guard. Surprisingly, my editor and team didn’t devour me alive within the first hour. What a shocker! But this shouldn’t be the expectation — it’s those negative thoughts that found an unhinged back door to my brain. 

Believe it or not, your editor knows that all of this is new to you and they will likely be accommodating. Two other writers on the team slid into my DMs and shared their numbers if I ever wanted to talk or had any questions. It was an environment that encouraged the creation of ideas along with questions and guidance.

One thing I would’ve done differently: ASK MORE QUESTIONS. This is your opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them within your first week. Unleash your inner Curious George.

Test the workplace vibe

With a new email and multiple work-related chats, it became a challenge to balance the dozens of emails that suffocated my inbox every half hour. Despite the many professional messages, there was also a private chat reserved for Twitter memes and inside jokes. Although your internship may be remote, begin to learn about the work environment — scroll through your editor’s Twitter if you have to. Learn whether you should punctuate your text messages or use all caps.

As you assimilate into the workplace culture, you’ll begin to realize how much (or little) free time you have, and whether you have time to balance a job or if you feel comfortable enough to ask for time off. These factors solely depend on the expectations of your role. I found that my editor gives me a lot of independence, and a majority of the work I do is self-motivated. If you’re someone who needs a deadline in order to get an assignment done, purchase a calendar and set your deadlines. It’s vital that you complete stories in a timely manner.

One thing I would’ve done differently: I’ll admit: some jokes went over my head. If I could enter the minds of my team, I would. This is where light social media stalking is acceptable. Follow the links to their posts in the private chat and follow them or familiarize yourself with the content. Before you know it, you’ll be cackling along to every joke too.

Read your publication’s content

While this may seem like a given, it’s so important that you familiarize yourself with the publication’s content. Prior to my internship, I began reading at least one story from my section daily. It’s also helpful to read the top stories from the website and follow their Instagram, Twitter or other social media platform accounts.

Some publications have a paywall, which makes it more difficult to periodically read their content. However, newspapers sometimes have subscription sales around the holidays, or have student discounts, so keep an eye out for those.

One thing I would’ve done differently: As I became more accustomed to the paper, I slowed down the frequency that I read the publication. It’s so important that you keep up with the daily coverage, so that you can link to previous stories, as well as strengthen your own writing by learning from others.

Pitch confidently outside your section

Oftentimes, when we’re offered an internship outside of our interests, our immediate reaction is to reject it. However, you can still learn and gain experience from a journalistic internship even if it that may be outside your preferred section.

In addition, if you find yourself covering a topic you don’t like or if you may not be in your preferred section, you can always pitch story ideas outside of your section. In order to do this, make sure the story you pitched is well-developed and researched. This will increase the likelihood of your editor allowing stories like this in the future.

One thing I would’ve done differently: When I first submitted pitches to my editor, I stuck strictly to the story ideas within my section. The key to pitching stories outside your section is confidence. I find that the way I present my story ideas influences the feedback I receive.

Three weeks later, I entered every 9 a.m. shift calm and collected, despite being a self-proclaimed night owl. One of the biggest takeaways from my internship was my growth as a writer. For every mistake I’ve made or detail I left out, I made sure to take note of it, so it can be avoided in the future. As you begin your internship, you’ll realize you’re exactly where you need to be and will become a stronger writer because of it.

Sources:

KPMG (2020). Advancing the Future of Women in Business: A KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report. KPMG Women's Leadership Summit.

Kalia is currently a journalism major at the University of Florida. She loves getting involved in all things fashion, jamming out to house music beats and traveling to new places. She is currently an active member of the Black Student Union and spends her leisure reading, sketching and working out. You can keep up with all the things she's involved in through Instagram @k.a.li.a.
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