Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Educated Advice: Are unpaid media internships worth the effort?
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am a college junior majoring in journalism and hope to find an internship in New York City or Chicago. I would eventually like to work for The New York Times or Vanity Fair.
The only internships I have found in my search expect you to work for free. I estimate it would cost at least $6,000 to live in either of these cities for the summer and question if the expense is worth it.
Signed: Internship hopeful
A lot of parents think that if their children study finance or medicine, they are guaranteed a well-paying job after graduation. However unimaginative that may seem, they are just being practical. While finance and medicine have pretty clear-cut career paths, they are largely meritocratic professions. A career in journalism is governed more by lucky breaks and personal connections. If you don't have these connections, it is unlikely you will find a paid or unpaid internship at a large city newspaper or magazine, much less The New York Times or Vanity Fair.
Don't misunderstand. Nearly all publications or media companies are willing to read a resume or email of inquiry. However, you had better include a brilliant cover letter demonstrating some practical experience in journalism if you want to catch their attention and have a fighting chance for an internship. Many of my clients who interned last summer at top banking, accounting and consulting firms have already accepted jobs following their graduation in 2016. Only one client found work in journalism, and it was at a nonprofit, not a major print media publication.
Do not ignore digital media internship opportunities in your search. And you should be able to find internship positions in smaller cities that are far more affordable than New York.
You have chosen a profession where you must be doggedly persistent and expect a lot of rejections. I have a client from France who was published in The New York Times while still in high school in the United Kingdom. His story will give you an idea of what I am talking about.
Andre was at home in Paris last summer and decided to attend a terrorist trial that was being covered by the international press. He met a journalist from a major American newspaper and asked him about opportunities for a summer internship. Andre kept going back to the trial every day and pestering the journalist until the scribe suggested that he go out and find a newsworthy event, write it up and submit it to his newspaper. His persistence paid off handsomely. That piece of advice would eventually lead to Andre being published under his own byline.
You will have to be aggressive and willing to take risks. Being a pest (sometimes it pays off) is part of it. When it comes to the working world, no one is going to take you by the hand and guide you. To find an internship, you will have to hustle just like Andre did and, once you land a job, pay your dues. The rewards are there if you don't give up.
Is it worth the money to live in a big city to get that experience? That depends. Do you have friends in any of the cities where there are internship opportunities? Having someone who knows an area would be beneficial in helping you decide if you can carry the financial burden. Have you spoken with your professors about your internship plans? They may have connections that will be beneficial in your housing issues.
Above all, persistence is key.
Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admission consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.
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