Five Tips For Landing Your Dream Journalism Internship

3f8bReasonDorks2 600x400 Five Tips For Landing Your Dream Journalism Internship

Getting a journalism job often
starts with getting a journalism internship, but not all journalism
internships are created equal. Some outlets don’t pay; some outlets
don’t let interns write or produce content; and some outlets don’t
do either. So unless someone close to you–parents, grandparents,
significant other–can pay your bills while you make coffee and do
research for nothing more than college credit (or less), you should
be looking for a journalism internship that pays you to build a
portfolio. Such an internship is a dream internship.
Fortunately for you,
Reason offers just such an internship. And after two years of
sorting through hundreds of applications for Reason’s Burton C.
Gray Memorial Internship, I’ve come up with a list of roughly five
tips that will make your application more attractive to me, and by
extension, to Reason (and probably to editors at other
publications, so long as they are not run by uptight bores). ;

1.) Follow instructions
If you
look at Reason’s ad for the Burton C. Gray Memorial Internship,
you’ll notice it contains specific instructions. We tell you what
we want in your application (published clips or blog posts, not
class papers), how we want you to send it to us (digitally,
please!), and when you have to send it by (March 26 for summer
2013). Once you send your application, you’ll get an auto-response
telling you we’ve received it, and that we’ll be in touch.
Reason asks you to submit these things a certain way not because
we are pedantic jerks, but because sorting through intern
applications is just one of my many responsibilities (and not, I
confess, my favorite), so it needs to be as efficient as possible.
There are almost no exceptions to this rule. If Jesus of Nazareth
sent me, two weeks after the deadline, a manilla envelope stuffed
with papers from his political philosophy class, I would not hire
him, out of spite.
Not only are there disadvantages to ignoring our instructions,
there are very real advantages to following them. The closer your
application package is to our ideal application package, the
happier I will be when reviewing its contents. Put your cover
letter in the body of your application email (rather than in an
attachment), and you will have the friendliest possible first
2.) Write the hell out of your cover letter
I know a couple of really solid writers who write really dull
cover letters. It’s like they dress their prose in a formal suit
and then ram a metal rod up its ass, thinking it makes them seem
more professional. But they seldom consider whether looking more
professional (code for “boring”) is actually helping them. I can
tell you, it is not! Another type of cover letter writer doesn’t
spend nearly enough time thinking about how to stand out, relying
instead on lists of accomplishments woven together with strands of
business speak. Cover letters that fall into these categories are
often bland and forgettable, which is not the kind of writing
Reason publishes. ;
If you aren’t already, start thinking about your cover letter as
an opportunity to showcase your skills and experience, but also
your personality. Are you funny? Be a little funny in your cover
letter. Are you analytical and good at simplifying complex
concepts? Briefly do that for me in your cover letter. Are you
capable of telling really good stories? Tell me a really good,
really short story. As a writer and an editor, my favorite cover
letters are ones that make me actually want to look at your clips.
So be bold. We value it, and so does the Internet.
3.) Show some familiarity with the
My senior year of college I applied for roughly two dozen
post-graduation internships, which required putting together and
mailing 24 applications while also having a social life, running
the student paper, and researching and writing my senior thesis.
Slammed, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time tailoring applications
to outlets, beyond changing names and addresses. By semester’s end,
do you how many of those outlets had called or emailed me for an
interview? One.
After two years of sorting applications for Reason, I have a
pretty good idea of why. Every cycle, without fail, we receive
several dozen fill-in-the-pub-name applications for a 10-week
internship that pays $5,000. I totally get why: Second semester of
senior year is frigging terrifying, and if you haven’t already
landed a job, then you’re probably flooding the zone in a panic.
The problem is, for that kind of money, we don’t want just anybody.
We want someone who knows what we do (we publish a magazine, a
website, and documentaries) and where we stand on big issues (civil
liberties, the nanny state, foreign policy, government spending,
and negative rights, for starters). That doesn’t mean there’s a
litmus test, or that a civil liberties advocate who doesn’t give
two hoots about the Federal Reserve is going to get passed over.
But it does mean that if you send us an application in which the
most specific thing you seem to know about Reason is the name of
its internship, we’re probably not going to interview you when
dozens of other candidates clearly want to work specifically for
And you know what? You will be happier working with a team you
know about and respect. So focus your attention and your
application efforts, even if it’s not on us.
4.) Tell me what you can do for us, because we know what
we can do for you
Almost as bad as the application spammer is the applicant who
tells me she wants to work for Reason because it would be good for
her career. Thing is, I know this internship will be good for your
career. That’s why people apply for internships. For their careers.
What you need to tell me is why you would be good for Reason’s
And how can you do that? Talk about your skills! Are you
familiar with with content management systems? Are you familiar
with and/or interested in certain issues and/or policy areas? Do
you write even when you don’t have to, like for a student paper or
for a group blog or for your own Tumblr? (There is nothing wrong
with Tumblr. I would love, for instance, to hire this person as an
intern.) Do you have practice transcribing? Can you make coffee? Do
you know how to use Nexis and/or Lexis? While we’re at it: what is
a meme?
Sell yourself!
5.) Be Patient
Spend the time it takes to craft a good cover letter. Be patient
while a friend or two looks it over once or twice. Double check
that your applications complies with all the instructions. Once you
hit send and receive that auto-confirm email, sit tight. Really,
it’s in your best interest to just try and be cool. ;
Because no editor’s full time job is selecting a new intern, if
you email me or call me before the deadline to ask for an update on
an application you know I received (the auto-reply, remember?),
you’re 100 percent likely to be interrupting me and 90 percent
likely to be irritating me.
Granted, reaching out to check up is not a deal breaker. I
remember what it was like to approach graduation day (or just the
summer break) without a job lined up–much less an internship–and
how crazy and impatient and anxious it made me. But the honest to
God truth is that you absolutely cannot improve your chances by
projecting that fear onto other people. So please, wait for me (or
one of my colleagues) to get in touch with you. I promise that we
will get in touch with each and every applicant, even if it’s to
break bad news. ;
I think that’s it. I wish you all the best. ;


Five Tips For Landing Your Dream Journalism Internship

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