Back to school: How to succeed at an internship in a city you’ve never been to before
Recent Ryerson grad Rhiannon Russell spent the summer working at the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, New Brunswick, and shares some tips on surviving (and thriving) at an internship in a new city.
Photo courtesy of Topher Seguin/Telegraph-Journal
Rhiannon Russell interviewing Pat Honeyman, a World War II veteran, for Victory in Europe Day in May in St. John, N.B.
By Rhiannon Russell
I spent my summer in a different city, in a different province, at a newspaper I had only read once before.
Last fall, with my graduation from Ryerson University looming, I applied for a couple of summer news internships in Toronto. On a whim, I sent in an application for one in New Brunswick that I found on Jeff Gaulin’s Journalism Job Board.
To my surprise, I got the gig. It was a four-month stint at the Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick’s provincial newspaper. Two short weeks after classes ended, I flew out to Saint John.
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The Telegraph is different from most Canadian papers in that it covers provincial and local news, each in its own section.
The plus side of this, for an intern, is that there are two distinct beats you have a chance to cover. I spent about two months writing for the provincial section, working on government, health-care and issue-based stories.
Working the city beat, I did produce some cat-in-a-tree journalism (except, in this case, it was cat-shot-by-an-arrow journalism). But I also got to write in-depth stories about city hall, crime, infrastructure and unemployment.
It’s a bit of a learning curve working in an unfamiliar city. Before I arrived, I got in touch with a Telegraph reporter who also went to Ryerson. She gave me the lowdown on the city and some of its municipal issues. When I got here, I used Google Maps a lot. I listened to the local radio station every morning. I read any New Brunswick news I could get my hands on—not just from the Telegraph. I explored the city on foot and by bus. This may seem obvious, but it goes a long way in helping you get acquainted with a new place.
With two internships under my belt now—including one at the Hamilton Spectator last summer—I wouldn’t consider myself an expert by any means, but I do have some tips that might help you in your internship hunt.
Create a diverse portfolio
When choosing which clippings to send in with your application, variety is best. Feature writing may be your strong suit, but if the job posting asks for five stories, don’t submit five features. Even if your news clippings aren’t as strong, include a few anyway. Editors want to see a range of what you can do.[node:ad]
Don’t be afraid to look for internships outside your city or even province
Internships can be a great way to get to know Canada, which is important for Canadian journalists. Plus, moving to a city where you don’t know a soul encourages personal growth and the development of good life skills. Not to mention, it’s a confidence booster. You’ll meet people through your job, no doubt, but it’s a great feeling to know you can survive on your own in an unfamiliar place.
Prepare for your interview
Because people tend to get hit with nerves before an interview, it’s a good idea to prepare in advance. I’ll make some notes and think out responses to potential questions. In the interview, sell yourself. Don’t be modest. Highlight your strengths and don’t minimize your accomplishments. Tell editors what you can bring to the publication, rather than how the experience will benefit you. I also like to have a short list of story ideas on hand.
Get there early, stay late (basically, be a keener)
Once you get an internship, throw yourself into it. At the Telegraph, I liked to get there earlier than the editors so I had time to read the paper, check out Twitter, Facebook and other news websites and come up with some ideas. At the end of the day, it can’t hurt to check in with your editor to see if there are any last-minute things that need to be done before you head home. Though you’ll likely have a scheduled shift, don’t always expect to fly out the door right when the clock strikes five.
Come up with ideas. Don’t stop
My editor at the Telegraph said ideas can set one good reporter apart from another good reporter. Saint John has a strong Facebook community, so that was typically a good source of story ideas. So were Twitter and occasionally Kijiji. (A post by a local couple looking to sell baby raccoons turned into an interesting story on wildlife captivity laws.) And, of course, people can be great sources of inspiration and undiscovered stories. It’s difficult to develop contacts in the span of a summer internship, but it is possible and very helpful.
Try to get as much experience as possible
It depends on the internship—if you’re hired as a court or sports intern, there’s probably little chance you’ll get to cover city hall—but it’s worth talking to your editor about trying out different beats. The Telegraph was great for this. I got to write on a variety of topics, from business to crime to obituaries. To get as much out of your internship as possible, there’s no harm in letting your editor know you’re eager to try new things.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
As an intern, you’re there to work, but you’re also there to learn. Reach out to your editor if you’re having trouble or need help figuring out a lead. Try to seek out mentorship, too, if it’s not offered. A mentor could be a senior reporter or the person sitting in the cubicle next to yours. Having a sounding board for your ideas and questions is invaluable.
Rhiannon Russell graduated this spring from Ryerson University’s journalism program. She recently completed a summer internship at the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B.