Internships: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Educators In the News

As I write this column in the middle of reviewing our summer internships, I was inspired to look back on the past 5-years of the best and worst of our students’ experiences.

Like most journalism and communication programs, at UWRF we encourage students to participate in multiple internships. Journalism students take internships during their junior and senior years when they have developed practical skills desired by media organizations.

During the internship our students submit a weekly journal entry describing their internship activities. The following came from recent journal submissions by our majors.

  • “This week I was able to work on a lot of stories and a variety of both news and features stories, which was really nice…I really got a feel for how much community means to a small town, which was a really cool experience and a lesson that no matter how small the story seems, there are always people who thinks it is important.”
  • “On Wednesday, I wrote an article based on the discussion [during the talk show I produced]. The article came together fairly easily. It was a pleasure to write that article because it actually got published on W***’s website! Woo!”
  • “Over the next week or so I am going to try to put something good together and suggest it to ****. This would be a good experience for me, and also would help my craft of writing. In addition to that I mostly helped around the promotions department for the rest of the week. This was a very productive week for me on the writing side.”
  • “The most valuable parts of my internship were defined by the people I got to meet and also by the things that I did outside of promotional work. The people that I met along the way were the most interesting because I got to learn a little bit about what they did around the station and how the whole thing comes together and makes the company work.”

In the past, however, some of our students have faced uncomfortable challenges. Here are some of my worst-case scenarios. In one such situation, I had two young women interning for the A/V department of a semi-pro team. (I’m not including names to protect the guilty.) I only learned near the end of the semester that when the team’s A/V person quit, my students were assigned his responsibilities and were working nearly 20 hours a week for free producing videos to air during games.

  • This week, at my internship I primarily worked on videos that would be posted during the games this coming weekend. We had a double-header weekend, which means we have two games in one weekend. It was really stressful in the office this week because there is normally only one game a week. The pressure was on to finish all of my work in time because there was twice as much to be done.

Not only that, they were expected to stay at the facility on Saturday nights until they had finished the work—often as late as 1 a.m. with no one else left in the building. They said they were always frightened walking to their cars. They were naïve and thought they had to do what they were told to meet the requirements of their internship. Three weeks before the end of the semester, when I learned what was going on, I insisted they quit…to their great relief.

One student spent the entire summer rewriting news stories for ****-TV’s website after the person who had that job quit. She was fairly isolated in the newsroom and her “supervisor” spent almost no time with her. She was paid nothing, got little support and was generally ignored as she worked in a cubicle out of sight of most of the staff.

A young man interning at ****-FM ran errands for the two-man morning sports show and served as the butt of their jokes when he stepped in the studio. The station was his favorite and the sports guys his idols.  He brought in a CD of his campus radio sports show and they played part of it on the air. As they laughed and tore it apart, they also slammed WRFW [our campus station]. The intern was so embarrassed because he knew his classmates were listening. WRFW’s student directors were incensed, swearing none of them would ever intern at that station.

As a result of these unpleasant student experiences, we’ve changed how our internships are structured.  Now we require a letter from the internship supervisor confirming that the student has been hired. It must include the intern’s specific duties and responsibilities, the starting and ending dates, hours/week, total number of weeks, and total number of hours, and whether the internship is a paid position. If so, the letter must include the amount paid. Finally, it must include agreement to provide a written evaluation of the intern’s work and a critique of his/her resume at the end of the internship.

I’m sharing these experiences to emphasize the importance of structure in internships. It benefits the organization and the students. A good internship should include a designated supervisor who is aware of the intern’s activities, provides feedback, assesses performance and serves as a mentor.

The station should have a clear structure for the internship duties, but make sure the intern learns about all areas of the station, not just the one he or she thinks is the best choice.

Students often are completely unaware of all the career possibilities in broadcasting. One of our campus station’s best sports announcers (color and play-by-play) was convinced that sports announcing was his career goal. He started at a small Wisconsin radio station where he was urged to also work in sales. He’s now a top account executive for a major marketing and advertising group in Minneapolis and loves his career path.

I would love to hear how your station organizes internships and what you are looking for in intern applicants. You can reach me at