Undergrad Internship Experiences
By: Erin McFarland
During my time at UTC I held two editorial internships with vastly different companies. My first internship was with BUZZMEDIA in Los Angeles, California. I had two friends interning in LA over the summer, so I decided to apply on a whim. I ended up spending the summer sharing a tiny one-bedroom apartment with my friends working part time at my unpaid internship and part time doing retail.
Los Angeles isn’t necessarily known for its impressive journalism, but the company I worked for owned dozens of online entertainment brands. While I was there, it actually picked up the major music magazine, Spin. I was hired to write articles on fashion specifically. I wrote posts ranging from the red carpet at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week to the 2012 Olympics. Because it was an online publication, photo galleries drove website traffic, so I spent a lot of time working in Photoshop doing crops. In all honesty, the website I worked for wasn’t my taste, but I learned how to write for the client and I was able to tailor my language to fit the site. Deciding to take that internship was a huge risk, but if you have the ability to do something similar—do. The internship, and especially the location, give my resume interest and exemplify my flexibility as a writer.
Once I got back from LA, I interned with The Pulse, Chattanooga’s alternative newsweekly. It delivers commentary on local culture as well as producing a weekly event guide. They generally work with at least two interns, but it was only me, which I didn’t mind because I was given a lot of responsibility. I was in charge of producing weekly arts and music calendars and transferring those events to The Pulse’s website. In addition to the calendars, I copy-edited the publication each week and wrote culture and events articles. I was given the opportunity to write pieces for the paper almost every week, so I got a lot of practice interviewing and transcribing. I even ended up developing a professional relationship with one of the subjects I interviewed and did some freelancing for their company! I’m so thankful for my time at The Pulse. It’s such a fun publication with a truly unique voice that reflects the people of Chattanooga.
I’m currently doing a postgraduate digital fellowship with Coastal Living and Sunset magazines at Time Inc. Lifestyle Group. There is no way I would have been eligible for this job without my previous internship experiences. It’s unfortunate, but because this is such a vulnerable time for print, nobody is willing to take a chance on a writer without job experience. Internships, although most are unpaid, absolutely pay for themselves later if you make yourself invaluable to the company.
My biggest piece of advice is to learn how to operate in a digital publication. It’s no secret that print is heading quickly in that direction. I have worked with a different SEO in every one of my editorial jobs and it’s imperative to understand the way digital content is produced. Likewise, it’s equally important to know publication design basics. If your boss asks you to edit a photo, you will waste valuable time having to teach yourself.
Overall, don’t lose your voice in your internship. When writing pieces for someone else it’s often difficult to strike a balance, but when these pieces eventually make up your portfolio you don’t want to get lost in the subject matter. At this point, it’s important to solidify your unique voice so that you don’t become indistinguishable to prospective jobs. Writing is a lot more fun that way anyway!