What I’d Tell My Intern Self
I can still remember calling my mom after interviewing for an internship at a Chicago news outlet. I waited for the bus in a red coat I still own, trying to describe to her how the interview went. I thought it went OK. By then, I had begun to detest interviews as nearly useless, awkward performances. Deep down, though, I hoped to hear back. Eventually, I received word that I had gotten the internship which would lay the groundwork for my next internship and future jobs I would hold longer after that.
I look back on my internships and early workplace experiences with no regrets. I learned a lot, I cried more than I should have and I made some friends along the way.
I’ve been reflecting on my internships following the publication of a feature in Asian American Journalists Association’s Voices vertical that exposed major media organizations’ tendency to hire interns from notable universities. The piece examined the low pay or no pay interns must contend with while trying to get their careers started.
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know I have thoughts on working for low pay or for free. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I had more thoughts:
If you fail to hire interns, freelancers and staffers from diverse backgrounds, your news product is inferior. Diversity is not a charity. It’s not an act of ”wokeness.” Diversity is a necessary component of producing a quality news product.— The Freelance Beat (@Freelance_Beat) August 3, 2019
Media companies know this by now. Every time a news outlet gets dragged to for misidentifying a person of color, writing some asinine millennial personal finance article or spread harmful rhetoric about the LGBTQ community, it illustrates their homogeneity.— The Freelance Beat (@Freelance_Beat) August 3, 2019
If I could go back to my intern and early workforce days, here’s what I’d tell myself:
You’ll make it through this
Some days will be cool. Other days will be awkward and difficult. But interning is the way to get the experience you need to pursue the stories you want to write one day.
Don’t feel bad about the opportunities you turned down
You’re bummed about turning down a few unpaid internships. You’ll go on to freelance for one of those places and the other two publications will cease printing. It’ll be hard to survive on the wages from your paid internship, but growing up how you grew up has prepared you for how to survive. Some compensation is better than nothing.
Your voice is necessary
You look around in the offices and don’t see many people who look like you. And those who look like you might be reporters or contributors but not managers and executives. That instinct isn’t wrong, but it’s not a reason to leave the profession just yet. There’s stories and issues that you see that your colleagues won’t. You understand what it means to be a person of color, a woman, a low-income individual, a first-generation college student... Lean into the things that make you different.
Where you go to school doesn’t matter that much
It wasn’t until I started at my internship that someone casually referred to my alma mater, Columbia College Chicago, as a “slacker school.” Fast forward a few years after you graduate, you’ll be writing for publications you never thought you’d write for in a million years. It’s not where you attend college; it’s what you do with your education that matters.
It’s going to be okay
You’re not super confident right now. You’re worried about making mistakes. (You’re going to make them, but it’s not anything insurmountable.) At some point, you’re going to find the path that feels right to you. And you’ll know it when you see it. It’ll take some bravery to pursue the thing you really want to do, but you can do this. You’re more prepared than you realize.
Did you have an internship early in your journalism career? What would you tell your intern/early-career self? Tell me in the comments or email me at email@example.com.