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March 13, 2017updated 16 Mar 2017 10:31am

How to make the most out of being a journalism intern

By Dominic Ponsford

Internships are widely derided as being a source of exploitation and way of ensuring only those who can afford to work for free get into journalism.

But I think that if done well, work experience is a boon for aspiring journalists and an equal trade whereby free labour is exchanged for invaluable mentoring.

If anything, interns should pay the publications (or at least provide the editor with a bottle of whisky, as one student on work experience did for me once).

To help the next generation of journalists make the most out of internships City University in London has teamed up with The Journalists’ Charity to host an event called How to be an Intern.

The panellists are Helen Lewis from the New Statesman, Mirror managing editor Aidan McGurran, Hearst content director Louise Court, journalism student Georgia Edkins and head of journalism at City University Suzanne Franks.

The event starts at 6pm, on Thursday, 16 March, followed by networking drinks. Those attending are invited to make a donation of £5 to the Journalists’ Charity. Sign up here.

Here are my internship tips.

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For employers:

  • Pay them at least the minimum wage if they are staying longer than two weeks (this is the law)
  • Have a plan to make sure you and them make the most of the experience
  • Be nice to them. Today’s intern will be tomorrow’s high-flying journalist. One day you could be applying to them for a job!

For interns:

  • Secure placements by sending a short cover letter and CV addressed to the person who deals with work experience at the publication in question (you may need to call up to get that name). Expect your first, second, and third emails to be ignored or missed. Follow up your emails with a phone-call. Repeat weekly until you get a yes or no
  • Arrive promptly ready to work from the off
  • Dress smart enough to go anywhere if necessary (shirt and tie for men)
  • Bring a Dictaphone and telephone in-ear mic (unless your shorthand is 100wpm you will need this)
  • Bring a notepad and pen so that you’re first mission is not finding the stationary cupboard
  • Prepare some story ideas before you start. If you are not given work to do search social media and other news sites for possible leads and keep pitching them to your editor until you find one they like.

Picture: Pixabay

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