Today I combed my hair and sat on a panel of savvy second year students at the UBC School of Journalism. Our area of expertise: summer internships.
I’m not going to lie — it was pretty wonderful to see the look of muted terror on the first year students’ faces.
I’m not a sadist, folks. Let me explain: I remember sitting in their spot last year and wondering if I should just ditch J-school and run away with the circus. And, from unscientific polling, I know that most people in my class have felt the same way at some point.
(It’s also worth mentioning that Kathryn Gretsinger, our awesome prof and internship coordinator, noticed that a disproportionate amount of insecurity was coming from the ladies. “Why are all these brilliant women coming into my office with all of these doubts?!” she exclaimed. So, to my female colleagues: you got this!)
Not only were all the worrywarts in my year bright and capable, they can now tell stories about the interesting and variegated positions they secured in Canada and abroad. This year’s highly capable crew will do the same.
Ok, now to the goods.
After a summer at the Toronto Star, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two about what the folks at 1 Yonge St. look for in a radio room intern. So, without further ado, I’m going to lay out some general advice for those interested in the particular position I obtained.
My only qualifier: this is my opinion based on my personal experience. Please take it for what it’s worth.
Landing a job at the Toronto Star Radio Room
- Read the Toronto Star in general, and the GTA section in particular. You should be aware of all the developing stories going on in the city, and be able to intelligently comment on the most prominent issues of the day. Don’t be afraid of the print edition. I’m sure they’ll find it heartening to hear about you literally flipping through their paper.
- Understand the particulars of the job. I’ve written about it tons — just search “radio room” on this blog — and so has the guy that gives you the job, Roger Gillespie. His description of the position and the latest round of hires here.
- Keep your finger on the pulse of the radio room. Follow their tweets on twitter (@starradiobox) and read the intern blog. Be able to pick out radio roomers that shine, and (if true) explain how your style resembles theirs. Also tell them about something new you can offer. Maybe a story was blowing up in the blogosphere far before the Star caught on and you would have been an early warning system.
- Read up on and respect the Atkinson principles. The Star’s commitment to social justice, and the money they put into investigative work, is rooted in a set of principles named after the Star’s first publisher, Joseph Atkinson. In short: “a progressive newspaper should contribute to the advancement of society through pursuit of social, economic and political reforms.” He was particularly concerned about injustice, be it social, economic, political, legal or racial.
- Acknowledge the uniqueness of the internship. The fact that the Star actually pays and nurtures its interns is not something to take for granted. Radio roomers participate in a series of workshops, start with shadow shifts under the watch of veteran interns and editors, receive information packages — like the famous box bible — and are encouraged to be as prepared as possible for a completely unpredictable job. Interns are also referred to as “Staff Reporters” in their bylines, but with great honour comes great responsibility. No hiding behind qualifiers like “student” this time.
- Highlight moments in which the Star did great work and also offer constructive criticism. This shows that you didn’t start reading the paper the day before your interview. Reference good coverage that dates back a few months (ex: the G20 live blog) or any of the Star’s more recent awards. You should also politely point out a few areas in which you think the Star could improve.
- Know and mention good bylines you follow. I mentioned Rob Cribb’s investigative pieces, Chris Hume’s incisive opinion pieces, and Cathal Kelly’s humour writing, but I also mentioned the work of other young interns doing great work (Jesse McLean, Madeleine White and Jennifer Yang, for instance). Yes, this means reading and reading and reading. You should know how the Star did on a few major stories and perhaps compare it to how the other major papers covered the same issues.
- Be genuine. You know the Star often looks at uncomfortable topics (Do the police profile people of colour? Are seniors being well treated in nursing homes? How do young women express their feminism today?) So, figure out what you think of the Star’s slant and be self-reflexive about your role in all this. Why do you really want to write for this paper? If you believe in what it does, that’ll come through. If you don’t, that will too.
- Dress to impress. Some people showed up on the first day of the job in t-shirts and jeans, while others wore suit jackets and collared shirts. In the words of my Prof. Joe Cutbirth, how you dress may be the difference between seeming like some kid who’s just doing a gig and an ambitious young professional. Look the part you want to play, not just for the interview but for every day you arrive at work.
- Once in, make it count! Getting the job is just the beginning. You should really begin with the end in mind, imagining what it will take to have editors notice you and keep their eye on you even after your internship is over. Good luck, young ninjas. The fact that you read through this whole post and are actively seeking advice is a very good sign. When anxiety strikes, remember the motto from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic!