Getting journalism work experience

Make the most of your internship

journalism work experience

A literal clip from 1906. CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia

You may be able to negotiate some enhancements to your work experience. If you’re a copy editor who wants to spend a week in graphics or a reporter who wants to do a ride-along with a photographer, ask. Some small- and mid-size newspapers construct internships where people rotate through several departments. If that doesn’t suit you, ask about that. It’s unusual for a newspaper that is all the way at one end of the concentrate-or-rotate spectrum to move all the way to the other end, but there are many points in between.

Demonstrating work experience

Clips are critical to show off your journalism work experience. They are the tickets for admission to virtually any job in the newspaper business. No clips? No chance. Clips are samples of your published work. They may be photocopies, they may be Web printouts, but they must have been published. Ideally, they should have been published by a newspaper or magazine. Alternatively, they may have been published by a Web site or newsletter. Work published in student publications is OK, but student clips are not regarded as highly as work published in professional publications. Class assignments, no matter how journalistically sound, are not clips. They have not been published and cannot be literally or figuratively clipped. If you submit unpublished work as clips, you will seem naïve.

“No one will hire me without experience, but if no one hires me, how do I get it?”

Start at the college newspaper. That is, for many people, the first step. If the main student newspaper won’t take you, try the alternative. If there isn’t one, look for a magazine. Don’t forget the yearbook. Wherever you see a publication, there is a potential to work for clips. There are mainstream and alternative newspapers near every college campus. A lot of them need news about the college and welcome students’ work, provided it’s well reported, well written, and on time. For someone who’s just starting out, no publication is too small. Many universities are big on research and have experts in their field. Every field has a magazine or Web site these days, and you can write for them. Find out what your school is known for, and find out what kind of work is going on.

More ways to get clips and journalism work experience

Can’t find anyone to pay you for your work? Work for free. Nonprofits often have newsletters—even magazines—that will publish your work, even though they won’t give you money. Get over the money issue and work for the clips and the journalism work experience. For many students, the obstacle to getting those first clips is not finding someone to write for, but finding the time. Here’s where to find it: You’re doing lots of writing for your classes. Make those writing assignments do double duty. If a professor assigns a journalistic piece on a subject, find a market for it before you begin writing. Many profs are proud to see their students’ work published. Sometimes a simple change in the assignment—or just submitting it—will let you write for class and for clips at the same time.

Last but not least, consider freelancing

Freelancing can be a great way to get clips when no one will hire you. It can also be a great way to get the clips you need to land an internship, especially if the collegiate press is
closed off to you because your school doesn’t have a paper, it won’t hire you, or you are a late bloomer. First, learn about the publication. Do that by reading it. If you don’t know what the publication uses, what it has already published or its style, you cannot pitch effectively. Second, as you read, try to determine where freelance material appears. Look for subtle difference in bylines. If someone is referred to as a correspondent or special writer, rather than the way most reporters are described, these likely are freelancers. Sometimes, a tagline at the end of an article will even tell you that a freelancer wrote the piece. This will tell you which departments have budgets for freelancers. Pitch your story to the right editor. Make some calls, do some reporting and find out whom you should be talking to.

The rest of the newsroom:

This advice comes directly from my book Breaking In. It contains everything I know about landing and acing your journalism internship. I’ve been a journalist for a long time, and spent nearly 20 years recruiting and editing at the Detroit Free Press. For more tips and strategies for landing journalism internships and jobs, check out these resources:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email