Women in journalism joined forces with the Journalist Charity and the Journalism department at City, University of London on 16 March to present an event on how to be an intern.
The panellists were Aidan McGurran, Managing Editor at Mirror Group Newspapers, Helen Lewis, WIJ Deputy chair and New Statesman Deputy Editor, Louise Court, Former Director of Editorial Strategy and Content at Hearst, and Georgia Edkins, Journalists’ Charity Social Media Intern. The discussion was chaired by Suzanne Franks, Head of Journalism at City.
Applying for internships
The panel advised aspiring journalists to use social media carefully when applying for jobs. Helen Lewis advised to look at what a google search of your name brings up when you’re applying for jobs, while Aidan McGurran said to follow journalists from the paper or website you’re applying to.
For cover letters, the panel’s advice was to put time into applications and make sure they are relevant. Louise Court emphasised the importance of accuracy, while Helen Lewis said that applicants should make sure their CVs and cover letters are formatted well and don’t contain gimmicks.
On your internship
Interns should know the publication they are working at and its writers, and think about the skills they have that older journalists don’t, Helen Lewis said. She added that “the joy of journalism is that hustling is absolutely encouraged”, but said that interns should think about the demands they make on other people’s time. She said interns should be up front about what help they might need and tell their line manager on the first day.
Aidan McGurran said that it is always impressive if interns arrive with a finished piece of work or story ideas, even if they are not used in the end.
There was much discussion about whether students should take unpaid internships. Louise Court said that students should be strategic about pay and internships; “think about what you want and what you can get out of the work experience”.
Aidan McGurran criticised the word intern and its negative connotations, saying “I’m a fan of work experience but not internships”.
McGurran criticised the culture of unpaid internships, saying that someone with his background would not have got into journalism today, because of unpaid internships. McGurran said that it has never been more competitive to get into journalism, and it means that younger generations are being exploited, saying “journalism has become a completely middle class industry”.
The panel agreed that qualifications in journalism could be useful. Louise McCourt said that doing an MA in journalism is great, but what employers are looking for is work experience.
Replying to a query about how much employers value certain universities, Helen Lewis said it looks good if someone has a degree from an institution like the Open University, as it shows that they can work independently. Georgia Edkins pointed out that students are under a lot of pressure, and that it can be difficult to balance getting work experience and doing well academically.
Relevant work experience
The panel emphasised that work experience should help students gain skills, with Helen Lewis emphasising that work experience “is not an end in itself”. Lewis added that blogging about an issue you are interested can be as good as work experience, but that students should focus on topics they are interested in.
Aidan McGurran said that working on student publications can be a good way to get journalism skills, particularly if you have break news stories. But he emphasised that journalism is not just about writing, it’s also about having people skills to get good stories. He added that journalists have to learn to listen to other people.
If you have tips on how to be an intern, tweet us at @WIJ_UK!