It’s internship season now, and every post on JournalismJobs and MediaBistro proudly declares that they will not be using you as a moving tray. You will be doing Real Work, like reporting things, jumping into hard news, writing front page stories, sitting in on editorial meetings and being allowed to speak. It’ll be great! You’ll be pitching stories, poring through data, getting Deep Throat to tell you all his inner secrets and winning a Pulitzer. You’ll be consuming more coffee than you deliver.
When I see that sentence, I shudder. Not because they’re lying, but because they are telling the truth.
Internships nowadays are essentially contract jobs. In the field of journalism, and, I’m sure, many other fields, interns are expected to jump right in and do things. There isn’t time to mess up. There isn’t time to fully train you; you must be trained on the job, or come fully trained. Whereas internships before were places where students came to transcribe things and “learn how the company runs,” now they are, for three months, fully responsible, fully jaded, fully caffeine-addicted employees. Worst of all, some of these contract positions are unpaid.
For five years, I’ve participated in internship season. I know the excruciating October to April, in which you apply to more things than you knew you were capable of applying to. I know the desperate fear that dawns on you in April when you start thinking, “Oh my God. I’m actually going to be the first student in this school’s history to actually not find an internship.” I know the mid-February anticipation you start to get every morning from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., when you haven’t quite woken up yet, but you have a physical need to check your e-mail, groggily, angrily – because who the fuck checks e-mail before the sun has risen? – hoping that someone requested an interview with you while you were sleeping. I know all these emotions by heart. I welcome them each year with open arms and battle-ready eyes, last year’s wounds still visible.
You find something at the beginning of May that you deem good enough because your parents have heard of the publication. If they haven’t, you feel like a failure. You spend your tiny, two-week summer vacation preparing yourself to start impressing editors again, and trying to sew back together your shredded ego.
Your internship starts, and no one has time to ask you for coffee. You are expected to know everything about the company and the city you’re working in, because the company cannot afford to waste any of your 12-week, minimum-wage gig. They need you to go out and report a front-page story your first day on the job. This is awesome, and terrifying. Awesome, because who doesn’t want to write front-page stories as soon as they start an internship? Terrifying, because “Oh my God, I don’t know how to get in touch with the mayor of Cleveland, I just moved here yesterday, JUST GIVE ME SIX MINUTES TO EAT MY SANDWICH PLEASE.”
You survive 84 days of the 24-hour news cycle. On your last day, you quietly eat your goodbye cake, alone at your desk, in about six minutes. You have two weeks to re-sew your ego and prepare to start impressing professors again. Oh and, don’t forget, internship season starts in a couple months. Start updating that resumé again.
May the odds be ever in your favor, or whatever.