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Hey college students: You don’t need an internship

by Andy Boyle.

I write this as a schmuck who had a summer internship every year in college after I decided to be a journalism major. Yeah, of course I can say that you don’t need an internship, especially when I had the luck to do four. So keep that in mind while you read this, because I might be full of crap.

During my days at Nebraska’s j-school, the professors pushed how important The Internship was. It was the point of everything. It’s why you did good in your editing classes, why you wrote awesome stories for basic reporting classes, why you shot great video in that-one-class-we-were-all-required-to-take-that-was-only-five-weeks-long-that-allegedly-teaches-you-everything-about-video (wherein you made this video and got an A, and made this video and got a B+). It was basic math — do this plus this plus this equals internship which equals another internship which equals a job which equals youcandonatebacktotheuniversity.

This made great sense even three years ago, when I had one internship under my belt and was searching for another. But it was hella nerve-wracking, fearing that if I didn’t get an internship this summer or that summer, I’d be screwed. It was like not getting into pre-algebra a year early in junior high. I’d be forever behind my fellow classmates and thus never accomplish anything (for the record, I was one of two students who took AP Calculus as a junior instead of senior year. I did not do well on the AP Calc exam, but I digress.).

Well, now my compadres still in college — including, somehow, the very talented ones — aren’t doing so well at getting internships. I’m sure it’s the same across the country. Less money for jobs at media outlets (usually) means less money for interns. I know places I’ve spent time at have turned former paid internships into unpaid and cut some interns altogether.

So, what have I told my pals? It’s pretty basic: You don’t need an internship. More specifically, you don’t need an internship with your Local Monolithic Media Outlet. Whether it’s print, radio or television, you’re not screwed if you don’t get picked this year.

Why? Because you can start your own blog in five minutes. Sure, sounds outdated. Blogging, ha ha ha isn’t that what they did back in (!!!) 2004 or something? Well, yeah. And that’s why you, wonderful journalism person who wants to have a career someday and needs experience, should start your own blog if you don’t get an internship.

Here’s the scenario: Your hometown/college-town paper says “nope kthx bai” when you apply for an internship. That sucks for them, because you can now become their competitor. Start your own blog. Find an area you want to cover. Maybe it’s city hall. Maybe it’s the bike riding scene. But start writing stories using whatever skills you have. Start promoting yourself, brand yourself, be an entrepreneur.

But Andy! However will I make money to buy awesome shoes and pitchers of beer?

Good question, omnipotent writing device! You may have to work at the Chuckle Hut or Fatty Fat Sandwich Ranch to make ends meet. That’s fine. But you have free time, right? That’s when you can make calls, go to events, take photos or video and/or write.

I’m not saying that you should do this instead of getting an internship. I’m saying you do this if you don’t get one. The worst that can happen is you won’t go cruising down main every day after work. The best that can happen is you gain more experience and a body of work you can show to a future employer/intern coordinator. And the super best that can happen is your Local Monolithic Media Outlet decides they should hire you for the rest of the summer instead of getting scooped.

You can also apply this to photography, graphic design (start going to local businesses who have horrible logos and design them new ones. Do a few for free, then use those to springboard your business and get paid a few bucks.), video, audio, whatever. And if you’re a copy writer, find a friend who’s a reporter and offer to edit their blog. BAM! Instant synergy.

Do you know how awesome it’ll be if, while talking to a future intern recruiter, you can tell them you decided to start your own media outlet when all else failed? Do you think any future employer would look down at you for being an entrepreneurial self-starter? If they are, you don’t want to work there, anyway.

For instance, Eliza Kern, who goes to the UNC, covered the second district congressional race in New Hampshire. Her blog even got some coverage of its own. She went out there and scooped traditional media outlets. If she can do it, why can’t you?

Blogging about your breakfast = not helpful. Maybe purchasing a police scanner and writing about car crashes = quite helpful.

Look, I still think it’s incredibly important that you get time to work with experienced journalists at a regular news outlet. That’s how you learn, by seeing others kick ass on a daily basis and picking their brains. Those basic reporting/photography/etc. skills can’t always be taught just by showing up at a water board meeting. You need to learn them from somewhere, and it’s not going to be in the classroom. Consider this option as a last resort if you can’t even get an unpaid gig.

So, you fine students who are trying to make their way during these difficult times, you can relax if The Daily Star Banner Globe News Telegram Gazette or KWTF says no. Just do it live, so to speak. You’ve got nothing to lose but a few bucks and your time.

Thoughts? Additions? Am I schmuck? Let me know what you think in the comments.

5 comments on ‘Hey college students: You don’t need an internship’

  1. Dave Stanton says:

    I’m completely in agreement. I’ll take it a step further and say unpaid internships are a waste of time — because the student generally has to pay credit hours to volunteer 30 hours per week.

  2. Angie Holan says:

    I would heartily recommend looking at “down ballot” political races for student blogs. That means the smaller races that don’t get coverage in many places. Do solid blog posts and break some news, then e-mail your links out to larger news outlets — you’ll get attention. And if it’s too late for the 2010 cycle, remember that a lot of cities have elections for mayor, city council, etc. in the spring.

  3. [...] and finally Andy Boyle makes the case for not needing an internship – the introduction doesn’t do what follows justice: “I write this as a schmuck [...]

  4. Heidi says:

    You’re pretty spot on. I never had an internship – I just freelanced a lot. I was offered two low-paying journalism jobs (full-time) during my junior year. Working one of those law-paying journalism jobs for just a year paved the way to an excellent journalism job that I’ve been in for close to five years now.

  5. [...] Boyle says forget traditional internships and start your own blog. Boyle is a newsroom web developer for the Boston Globe and boston.com. He’s seemingly having an [...]

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