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The news and online journalism industry through the eyes of a young Web publishist.

Newspapers need interns now more than ever

By Ben LaMothe

When I was working on my undergrad in journalism, I became aware of this special window of time each year known as Internship Season. It begins in October with application deadlines and ends in March and April, when papers made their decisions about who they’d like to take on as an intern.

During this time all of my fellow classmates were operating at maximum stress levels because they were, in effect, planning for their summer. It’s a precarious situation because often newspaper internships were unpaid. However there were paid ones out there and if you were fortunate enough to get one, it meant you had steady income during the summer months.

So you send in your CV, do an interview or two, and find out that, despite your obvious talents, they couldn’t take you on as an intern.

Been there, done that.

This was a few years ago, back when the industry was shaken, but not as badly as it is now. Thinking about it again, it makes me wonder why the papers couldn’t take on a greater number of the talented people they came across. Even if the internship was paid, it was usually a few hundred dollars a week for essentially 40 hours of work. You’re getting the output of a professional journalist at a fraction of the price — but, no, only take a handful.

Things have changed. The industry has changed. Newspapers, if they want to survive, need to take more interns. There’s a sea of talented students in j-schools across the country who bend over backwards for the opporutnity to show what they’re made up and to get some experience. There’s no reason not to hire more.

And I hear the argument that no one is spending money right now, etc. If your paper can’t afford to hire an intern and pay them a few hundred dollars a week to work full time, then you probably shouldn’t be in business.

Interns will come into your newsroom — the good ones — and want to prove what they’re made of. They will want to leave an impression. Sure, there’s a learning curve — but with the better interns, it’s not very big. And before you know it, they’re teaching you. Especially now, when the industry is trying to figure out how the Web works. Hire some young people who grew up in the Internet age, but who also happen to be journalists.

In newsrooms across the U.S., 2009 should be known as The Year of the Intern. Because they’re young, Web-savvy, inexpensive, dedicated, and hungry for a chance to prove themselves.

How can any editor turn that down?

Filed under: student journalism, , , ,

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