My Kingdom for an Intern

It’s summer, and the interns are in full bloom.

I didn’t log in to ogle future lensmeat.  That would be creepy even for a crusty old fart like me.  I’m here to ask the age-old question, “What, exactly, are they teaching the minds of mush in J-school these days?”

Every summer, newsrooms across the land are overrun by college seniors looking for a taste of the street — a chance to mix it up with Pookie and Ray-Ray, needle a gasbag, or spout puffery into a stick mic.  Or at least they used to be.

This summer there must be 30 interns flitting around our newsroom.  More than half (I’d venture to guess somewhere around 28) of them don’t want to leave the building.

They’d rather sit on the internet and watch stackers stack and do their on-line banking than actually go out see how the news sausage is made.  They’d rather watch the clock, than watch a reporter show them how it’s done.

I’ve had the pleasure of taking one of the more industrious interns with me.  For the record, she’s not even studying journalism.  She was a sponge.  Asking questions about interviews, shots, my thought process.  Within 8 hours, I had her logging and writing a script.

I also had the pleasure of taking a future J-school grad for a ride.  She sat quietly in the passenger seat and only spoke when I asked her a direct question.  I gave her the usual Intern Speech.  Stay out of the office as much as you can.  Go out with every reporter.  Find a mentor.  Ask questions.  Write every story you go out on . . .

When I got to the part about learning how to shoot because she’d probably be lugging a camera on her first job, she looked at me like I had a horn sprouting from my forehead.  Then she asked if my station ever hires interns to report.

How is it that she had made it through four years of J-school and had not once heard of the OMB/MMJ revolution?  Or paying dues in Smallsville?

She could speak the language.  VO/SOT, soundbyte, NLE, lead, tag, but she didn’t have the foggiest idea what was happening in the industry she had chosen for a career.

And I’m not just picking on her.  It happens every semester.  Kids come straight from the halls of academia clueless about what’s happening in the news business.

Not to sound like that crotchety old guy in the corner, but in my day, broadcast journalism departments taught shooting, writing, editing, studio work, voice work, and lighting — not to mention the current events pop quiz that could pop up at any time in any class — and produced some pretty versatile graduates.  Students were expected to keep abreast of issues and trends in the industry as well as subscribe to several industry magazines.  They were required to be proficient in every job in a newsroom from producing, to shooting, to reporting, to managing.

I’m not saying we came out knowing everything, but we came out with a good idea of what the job was, and how to do it.  We still needed the experience of tight deadlines, and daily turns, but we had been prepared to handle it.

The crop of interns I see every year get worse and worse.  They are more specialized.  Less versatile.  Less motivated.  Less interested.  Less educated.  And they expect to walk out of school into a six-figure anchor job.

It’s not their fault.  Colleges and universities have had them for four years.  They have taught them theory and coddled them with extended deadlines and grading curves.

In the real world, if you don’t have a story idea, you fail for that day.  If your mic cable has a short, you botch the sound, or miss the shot, you fail for that day.  If your story doesn’t make slot, you fail for that day.

In short, if you don’t show up prepared, you fail.

If J-schools want to help future journalists show up prepared, quit teaching them how to rewrite press releases, or repurpose scripts for the web, and teach them how to produce content.  And start telling them the truth.  The hours are long.  They pay is shit.  Your boss is not your friend.  You WILL shoot your own stories.  And on the odd day that you do get a photog, buy him lunch.  He’ll make sure you look good.


About Rick

Writer, photographer, thinker of deep thought . . . too bad I only write about shallow ones.
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2 Responses to My Kingdom for an Intern

  1. Wendy says:

    well said! I remember the wringer you put me through when I was interning at the deuce! Best education I got! When I was put in charge of interns at my next few stations, I passed that knowledge on. Although, I had to do A LOT of reteaching in the process!

  2. True story. As an intern who worked with you…. thanks!!! 🙂 Loving your posts.

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