Enthusiasm. Creativity. Passion. Energy.
That’s what our newsroom gained every summer in years past in the form of college interns. The News Tribune typically hired five or six summer interns, paying them for 10 weeks of work and providing them plenty of on-the-job training.
It was great for us. Interns joined reporting teams and helped cover simpler stories, often filling in while staff writers were on vacation. They provided a fresh, young perspective and were just plain fun to have in the room.
It also was great for the interns. Getting a job in this business is dependent upon having work published by a news organization. Our interns walked away at summer’s end with a portfolio of clips, often including work that had landed on our front page. Internships led directly to full-time jobs for some, including current TNT reporters Joyce Chen, Melissa Santos and Stacey Mulick.
Unfortunately, our paid internship program came to a halt last year when it fell victim to expense cuts we made during the economic downturn. In recent years, newspapers across the country have quit offering paid internships because they no longer could afford them.
Last summer, we had no interns. We didn’t want that to happen again.
Not only did we miss the coverage interns provided, but also we knew we were falling short of our responsibility to help bring up the next generation of journalists.
A few months ago, a handful of newsroom staffers got together to build a new internship-for-credit program that offers many of the same opportunities. While we can’t pay interns in dollars, we can offer them experience, mentoring and the chance to produce clips that will help them get into the business.
Our first priority will be to customize programs that ensure interns meet their schools’ requirements for credit. Each intern will be mentored by a newsroom staff member who will serve as coach and liaison with the college.
We also will be as flexible as possible with part-time or off-hour schedules that allow an intern to keep a paying job.
Rather than advertise nationally, as we did for paid internships, we are targeting students from Northwest schools or those who hail from here, thinking they’ll more likely have a place to stay with family or friends. Plus, we really like the idea of growing our own.
Our first intern, Rose Thompson, started last week on our copy and design desk. Thompson will be a senior this fall at the University of Puget Sound, where she has been the news editor for The Puget Sound Trail student newspaper. She is from Grand Marais, Minn.
The others are:
• Daniel Serna, from Puyallup, a student at Yale University. He will be a news reporting intern. You may remember Serna as a community columnist on our editorial pages. He also was the editor of the Viking Vanguard at Puyallup High School.
• Keegan Prosser, from Tacoma, who is in the journalism program at Western Washington University. She has served as the arts and life editor of The Western Front, Western’s student newspaper. Prosser will be a features reporting intern. She is a Stadium High School grad.
• Cameron Cowles, a senior communications major at Pacific Lutheran University. Cowles will be a photo intern. He is from Kent and has his own freelance business.
A week ago, a reader asked me if college students are still showing any interest in journalism, given how difficult it might be to get a job in our industry.
I asked that question of our interns.
“While I understand the current state of newspapers,” Prosser said, “I am pursuing a career in journalism because I think it serves a vital purpose in American society, as an open forum for people to discuss and debate the issues that affect us daily. Although journalism continues to evolve – via the internet and a push for citizen journalists – there is something to be said about traditional, accurate news sources.”
And Serna answered this way: “It’s common knowledge that traditional newspapers are struggling, but this is hardly unprecedented; the media industry is always in flux, and has been rolling with the punches for centuries.
“This is the most exciting time to be in journalism because the decisions we make now will shape the face of the industry for decades to come. Surveys show that the vast majority of Americans feel overwhelmed, not informed, by the wealth of information now available to them, and it is our responsibility as journalists to find new, innovative ways to ensure that the most people are still presented with the most reliable information possible.”
That kind of passion and optimism makes me hopeful for the future of journalism, and I’m glad the TNT is once again helping to bring those students along.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434