Q&A

For our first monthly Q&A, Pete Volk sat down with Chris Harvey, director of internships and career development and multimedia professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, and talked about the best way to use your school to help in your journalism career.

Povich Center: How can journalism students use the facilities available at their school to get internships and jobs in the field?

Chris Harvey: It’s a multi-step process, and what we encourage students to do is initially get involved with campus media, and then leverage that to get internships and opportunities off campus. So for instance, coming in as a freshman, a lot of our students have had high school experience, with their newspapers and websites and TV stations, and that’s terrific, keep it moving to keep going with the experience level.

Even as a freshman we encourage you to seek out either freelance or staff writing positions with publications like the Diamondback, the Eclipse, La Voz Latina – any of the print or web publications on campus along with the campus radio station, the campus TV station, where typically you can volunteer (and on the radio station you can have your own show), so those are terrific opportunities. Some students do it throughout their four year career; some students use that as a building block to internships and jobs off campus.

PC: So would you say it’s important to start with those on-campus publications as soon as you get to school?

CH: I think it’s a good idea, yeah. I think sometimes students want to wait until they’ve had their first writing class, but honestly if you’ve already had some experiences writing in high school, you probably are ready to dip your toe in and start freelancing or doing general assignment work at some of these campus publications.

PC: What would you say the appeal is to employers for someone to have worked with campus publications as a freshman?

CH: They can read published work, and it’s vastly different to write something for a grade than it is to write it for publication. It’s great to get the A’s in class and to learn how to structure your stories, but when employers see that it has been published somewhere, they know that a level of accuracy has been applied to that story that the student may or may not have used when they wrote it in class.

Hopefully in class the same level is used, but it’s harder to check. We expect you to be checking all of your facts when you write a story for [JOUR] 201 or 320, but oftentimes the instructor can’t check every factoid, they don’t have time to fact check the whole class, so when you write it for the Diamondback or one of the other campus publications, if there were mistakes there’d be letters to the editor and there would be corrections, and you learn from that and employers know that if you continually make mistakes you’re going to be dropped from the roster of that publication.

PC: How do students best go about looking for an internship?

There are a lot of ways to figure out what’s available. One way in the fall is to come to the Career Fair, which is held this year on October 22 from 1:00 to 4:30. Usually several dozen employers from the region come to that.

Other ways to look for the internship, obviously if you are like “I’d love to go to work for NBC4”, Google NBC4 and internships and find their internship page, and it will tell you what their deadlines are and what they require for the application. Most major media companies have those pages online, so you don’t have to wait for me to send over a listserv blast about Channel 4, if you’re interested in them, look it up.

We send over the listserv blasts, I have a twitter feed @harveyonline, where I send separate things. Usually the listserv blasts are the e-mails that I get sent to us about opportunities, but my Twitter feed is me kind of scouting through internship pages, and usually it’s sort of collated from some of the big job sites but occasionally I’ll go hunting as you would, ‘Oh I wonder when the Post’s deadline is’ or ‘Oh I wonder when the Sun’s deadline is’ and so I’ll go and post that on Twitter if there’s something to link to online.

We have an online job bank on our career pages, too. The listings are chiefly what I consider ‘evergreen’, meaning they’re company names and addresses and phone numbers and contacts so it’s not like tomorrow you have to apply for this. A couple of those have deadlines but most of them are just ‘Oh, if you haven’t heard of the City Paper in Baltimore, here’s their info’.

A lot of times students don’t really think of the small publications and that reminds them about some of them and how to get in contact with the editor. And then talking to your colleagues, because occasionally I’ll have students send in an application, and I’ll say ‘Wow, how did you hear of them?’ and they’ll say ‘Well, Suzy in my 320 class told me about them, she interned there last summer’ and it’ll be in their hometown or it’ll be in New York, which we don’t typically track because it’s not in our region. So talk to your friends at the school and see the cool experiences they’ve had.

Part of this whole process isn’t just figuring what you like to do and what you’re good at, but what you don’t like and what you don’t want to do when you graduate. It’s better to invest a couple of months into an internship in a place that you don’t particularly like than to get accepted in a job there after graduation, in which you really should stay for about a year. So it’s a learning experience and when I meet with students, a lot of what I hear is ‘I realized I didn’t like this’ and I say ‘Well that’s good, yay!’, so that’s not a bad thing to learn, along with ‘Wow, this was so fun, I want to do this when I graduate’. That’s what I’d prefer to hear, but I also want to hear ‘Well I can cross this off my list, I’m not good at this’ or ‘I didn’t like this’.

PC: Besides knowing what you do or don’t want to do, what else do you think students will get out of the internship experience?

CH: Skills. Skills and learning how to operate in a professional environment. We recommend working in a student publication early on to really learn about reporting and accuracy and being unbiased, but in addition to that we want you to be in a professional newsroom to see what the standards are, what’s required in that 24/7 news environment, which skills do you need to know, what skills courses you should take on top of the ones you’ve already had. You’re learning professionalism and you’re learning how to operate in a modern newsroom environment.

The other thing is the connections. Most of us here have worked in newsrooms and most of us keep with those connections. What surprised me, as a young reporter I never realized how small the journalism community is, and 30 years out I can tell you that it’s really small and people that I’ve known since I was 22 I’m still really good friends with. We want you to start making those connections while you’re here, so you can get some of that from your teachers who keep up with their friends of the last three decades. We want you to have a lot of them when you get out of here because those connections will help you get the interview, they’ll help you get the job, if you know somebody who knows somebody who can attest that you’re someone of quality that they would want to have around.

PC: You just mentioned networking with faculty, how can students network with fellow students?

CH: Well hopefully by working with them on campus publications and by teaming up with them on classroom projects. A lot of us now in our courses require team projects, and certainly all the capstones require that.

PC: Do you think one internship is enough?

CH: We encourage more than one, but we can’t require it – we literally don’t have enough room in our curriculum to fit more than one because we’re an accredited college; we’re ruled by the accrediting board on how many journalism credits you can take as a part of your university experience and we’re pretty much at the limit. Also, every student is different. Let’s say you had three years at the Diamondback in progressively more demanding roles and then you had an internship at the USA Today, you’re going to be in pretty good shape. But if you did nothing for three years and went to work as an intern at the PG Sentinel and that was your only experience, you might get an editorial assistant job at a small weekly when you leave here or reporting experience at a small daily but you’ll land lower than you would have if you had more experience at bigger places. A lot of it, for TV, print and radio, is hierarchical, so the more you do will affect where you land when you graduate.

PC: What should younger students know about unpaid internships?

CH: They need to be careful that they don’t overcommit. So when you’re negotiating, usually we have a requirement on how many hours you need to do minimum – a lot of newsrooms will ask for two days a week, occasionally I’ll hear TV studios asking for three days a week, so you have to use your judgment based on your course load if that will fit in and whether or not it’s realistic. A lot of times my advice for summer internships is if they’re unpaid, don’t do it five days a week. If you’re like me when I was here and you need the money to get through school, then you should leave some time to get a paid job.

You can follow Chris Harvey on Twitter @harveyonline.