What To Do With Interns

Apr 16, 2015

It’s almost summer, and a new batch of interns will soon be knocking down the newsroom door. 

What, oh, what to do with them?

Interns should learn how to write, record and edit audio, develop a story idea and execute it. Get them going with cut-and-copy, then wraps, then superspots. What works well: treat interns like professional reporters. Logging tape is busy work, don't make interns do it unless it will really contribute to a story for air. Make sure interns have work to show for when they finish their internship. Tell your colleagues about the good ones so they get jobs in public media.

Hear that and much more from George Bodarky — News and Public Affairs Director in WFUV's student-filled newsroom, Doug Mitchell — Next Generation Radio Founder and NPR Talent Developer, and Ann Marie Awad — Morning Edition Maven at WRKF and not-so-long-ago intern at WHYY.

Download George's slides

Download WFUV's news contract

Download Doug's slides

Answers to additional questions that came in during the webinar…

Advice for managers of small newsrooms? I wear a lot of hats — reporter, editor, All Things Considered host — how can I find time to train interns?

George: I would suggest setting aside some training time, build it into your daily routine, or create a structured training period once a week. Get your intern(s) up to speed and then allow them to do real work – report and such. You would edit them as you would any reporter. Sure the edits may be a lot heavier and you might spend a bit more time working with and teaching them, but before you know it, the edits will take less time, as they will have the tools to operate independently and do stronger work.

What to do with interns who don’t know if they want to be journalists?

George: Start with simple assignments and build them up to meatier assignments.  But, that said, sometimes the engagement is simply not there. That’s when it’s time for a conversation. “I would love to see you move beyond these simple stories.  How do you feel about that? What interests you? What might you want to work on?”  It can sometimes be fear and intimidation standing in an intern’s way, not a lack of interest. It’s up to us to help build confidence and set them up for success. Maybe tell them, “I really think you can challenge yourself to do more. I’m confident in your ability. You should be too.”

How do you assure a long tenure for the paid students in your newsroom — you’d hate to take three semesters getting them trained, only to have them graduate and split in semester four. Are you recruiting freshman and sophomores? Also, are there grad students involved?

George: Our goal is to bring freshman and sophomores in. That said we will take in juniors, even seniors on occasion. Seniors need to be in their first semester and be truly committed to the craft. I’m not going to turn someone away if they truly want to do this for a living, but simply didn’t realize it until later in their academic career. But, again, if they are a senior, we are talking a lot more about expectations. We are, of course, used to regular turnover, but the key is to always have people lined up to replace the strong people who leave. We do have some grad student involvement. Not a ton here at Fordham, but that will change when the University launches its new public media masters program in ’16.  

How do you prepare interns for interning on a daily live interview talk show?

George: Remember how you learned what you learned and teach others. What did you need to know to do your job well? Develop a small training curriculum to help people achieve those skills and then delegate responsibility to them. We all learned what we needed to know to do our jobs well.  We simply need to communicate that knowledge to others and then have them DO IT. 

Should interns do ANY work that isn't educational?

George: If station staff has their sleeves rolled up, why shouldn’t interns?  We are also teaching teamwork and relationship building – how to function in a professional environment. That said, if I’m not doing it, I’m not going to ask an intern to do it.  That’s just wrong. 

How can you encourage interns to be more vocal without having them think they're doing something wrong by not speaking up?

George: Have ongoing conversations with them. Ask them how they’re doing.  What they learned today. Is there anything else you want to do? Make sure they know you have an open door policy to talk about anything on their minds. Treat them as equals. You need to create an environment that’s welcoming and understanding -- one where they know it’s okay to make mistakes. Bottom line is asking lots of questions – make sure they know you’re interested and you value their opinions and insight. Bring them into editorial meetings and encourage involvement, etcetera. 

For the summer, I received 40 applicants and we only have one internship position. When looking at applications, what are qualities you see that help students rise to the top?

George: What are their career objectives? What do they hope to gain from their experience? Maybe you can have them write an essay as part of the application process. It will help to glean more from what you would get in a standard application, especially when you’re dealing with students with little or no experiences.

How do you groom an intern to eventually move into a leadership position?

George: Create positions that allow interns to climb the ladder in the newsroom!Give them responsibilities that help them get there. We have news manager positions at WFUV (held by students) with very specific responsibilities attached. We can see who is showing leadership ability in the newsroom, who are our strongest editors and reporters. We then seize the opportunity to talk with those individuals about leadership roles and work with them to sharpen their skills in those areas. In the end it all comes down to trust and responsibility.