It’s intern season, when a slew of newbie journalists hit newsrooms in force. Some are go-getters, asking too many questions but offering unexpected insights. Others hide behind their computers and never speak. The best absorb lessons but also teach their old editors a few new tricks. We asked a few Kip Fellows their tips for maximizing the talents of interns. Here are their suggestions:
• Send interns out with seasoned reporters in their first weeks on the job.
“For a public affairs reporting intern, it can be a little overwhelming at first,” says Kip Fellow Michelle Everhart, who supervises Scripps Statehouse News Bureau fellows at the Columbus Dispatch. Having them tag-team with a pro “makes them feel more confident, they get the lay of the land, and have a little background info to get them going.”
• Train them in the fine art of face-to-face communication.
Though interns might be great at communicating via Snapchat and Google Chat, some lack basic knowledge of putting in real face time (the kind you don’t use an iPhone to achieve). That’s why Fellow Brakkton Booker makes a point of having informal, over-the-desk conversations with interns at the Washington Desk of National Public Radio. “Interacting with editors who are 20 to 30 years older than them is a lost art because they don’t get taught that in journalism school. Teaching when to put stuff in an email and when it’s time to get up and have a conversation with somebody, I think, is big.”
• Teach them how to pitch a story.
Interns often attend budget meetings and can bring off-the-wall, fresh story ideas. Too often, though, they lack skills in pitching those ideas. Training them to do a little “pre-reporting” can get their story idea slated. What’s the news peg? How can they tell the story on other platforms? Booker tells interns: “If you’re going to pitch something, already have in mind who you want to (interview) or how to frame the story. It may not be the right way but at least you’re thinking beyond the clip you bring to the meeting.”
• Use interns to get a fresh perspective.
“We are so entrenched in what we do — having outside perspective can bring a different idea to the table,” Everhart said. She often asks interns to research bigger issues around which the newspaper is developing stories, such as gay marriage and whether Gov. John Kasich will run for president. Interns bring a more youthful, real-world attitude to the coverage.
• Tap into interns’ social media savvy, but emphasize the differences in approach.
“I feel I’m pretty in-tune with social media,” said Everhart, an assistant public affairs editor. “But I’m getting to the point that I’m not young and hip anymore.” When it comes to hashtagging and snapping and Instagramming, she said, interns “live this.” She regularly asks them to show her ins-and-outs of new platforms, and has tapped their ideas on how to run social media accounts. One intern coined the desk’s Twitter handle, @OhioPoliticsNow.
Even so, interns should be aware that newsroom social media is not the same as dorm room social media. One mis-tweet could compromise the reputation of the news organization. Interns need advice on how to pace their posts and when a tweet crosses the “appropriateness” line.
• Be patient. Nearly every journalist can remember being that restless, untried reporter, fresh out of college and dying to get the next big story. “Everybody learns at their own pace,” Booker said. “Internships are all about learning.” Let them make a few mistakes, ask inane questions and maybe even teach you something in the process.