Internships are THE critical gateway for students who hope to work in television news. This is where students may have their only opportunity to acquire the two most important cornerstones of a career launch – EXPERIENCE and CONTACTS.
Best not waste the chance.
Even so, a TV newsroom can be a harsh and intimidating place. The internship is where the people who just “want to be on TV” are separated from the students who are actually interested in NEWS. The latter are the ones who will make it. Many of the rest are better suited to sales, marketing or PR.
I say this because in 27-years of working with interns, I’ve seen a shocking number of students come into newsrooms clueless about major current events — and who key newsmakers are. If you are not someone who makes a daily habit of logging onto a news aggregator to read major metro dailes and look at NEWS video, you might as well change majors now. This business is not for you.
For the rest, here are some tips to help you make the most of your TV News Internship:
- Take Initiative. Don’t be a “potted plant”.
- An internship is not a class where teachers monitor and take interest in your progress. In fact, because of the extreme pace of a newsroom, you may find almost no one with the time to mentor you. This means YOU will need the courage to step up and offer to help, rather than waiting to be asked to do something.
- Take advantage of “just answering phones”.
- In this your first important “networking” opportunity. Here you can memorize the NAMES, FACES and PERSONALITIES (as well as the phone extensions) of everyone in the newsroom. Deliver messages in person so you get to know them. Then offer to help trouble-shoot, find answers for, or even call back some of the more problematic callers.
- Take accurate notes. Record the time, name, number and even e-mail of every person who calls. For days nobody will ask, notice or care – but on the day someone needs a critical contact you’ll be the one who saves the day, (and maybe gets a job).
- Be aware of the major events of the day, and the stories reporters are working on.
- This way you are able to recognize the important callers and even “pre-interview” them as you screen and manage calls. (I’ve worked with interns who have blown off newsmakers because they had no idea who they were talking to.)
- Ask to sit in on editorial meetings.
- This is where you’ll gain an understanding of how decisions about “what is news” are made. Note the big stories of the day. Then, during down time read up on them to background yourself on what’s going on.
- Become a master of “posting to the web”.
- Virtually every television station in America is short on web producers to add to and manage content on the station’s website. Find the web producer and get a lesson in how to add text, photos, video , links and other media to the website.
- Offer to assist reporters and producers in converting their TV content into web content. (Perhaps the reporter is still on a live shot and has not filed to the web yet. Can you take information by phone or e-mail and help? Yes you can.)
- Learn to produce web-based graphics. (If you don’t know what this is, ask. Most TV stations use them – and the producers and reporters will LOVE you for helping out on this.)
- Become a master of research.
- Reporters often need help developing background and finding contact phone numbers in a hurry. This is often easier said than done. If you don’t have a grasp of current events, you may be hard pressed to even know what key words or names to type into Google. Again, read the paper and the station’s website to know what’s going on.
- When asked to research something – look for the key people being quoted in background source material – then figure out how to contact them.
- Quickly learn to find “media” or “newsroom” tabs on websites of all kinds. This is where you’ll find the professional public relations people who may help you or your reporters quickly find the newsmakers you are looking for.
- Do all your business by e-mail. — messages – research – answers to questions – everything. You’ll have better luck finding that lost name and number for a scatterbrained reporter if its saved in an e-mail somewhere.
- Ask to shadow the people you are working with – then on your own time, produce your own versions of the product.
- Go on stories with reporters, photographers or MMJ’s. Ask to keep the raw media. Later, write and edit your own story AND ASK FOR A CRITIQUE.
- Sit in on video editing sessions – same as above.
- Ask the reporter, photographer or MMJ if you can shoot your own standup in the field, then add it to your own story.
- Sit in the control booth when a broadcast is on the air.
- Learn to shoot and edit video. It is VERY unlikely you will land a job where you are a traditional TV reporter with a photographer to shoot and edit your stories for you. If you don’t relish the idea of shooting and producing your own video — change majors now.
When all is said and done, make sure you leave the internship with the numbers and emails of everyone you worked with. Friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and get connected on LinkedIn. Now that you’ve worked in a newsroom, join a professional organization such as the Society of Professional Journalists. Engage with these people. Show not just your interest, but your knowledge. Be patient. There is still room for smart people. Good things will happen.