Behind the Scenes

Pre-Job Prerequisites

Designing the right internship experience can set someone’s career in motion.

This month’s CMP Series story on internships grew out of a conversation I had a while ago with Cynthia Vannucci, Ph.D., professor and internship coordinator for Metropolitan State University of Denver’s hospitality, tourism, and events department. Providing work experience directly related to an intern’s major, she told me, is a legal requirement.

I hadn’t realized that your responsibility when hiring an intern went to that extent, but I was grateful that those who worked with my daughter several years ago when she interned at a TV station did. She blossomed during her broadcast-journalism internship, and was hired there once she graduated.

What role, I wondered, had internships played in the Convene editorial team’s journalism paths? Digital Editor Kate Mulcrone worked 20 to 30 hours a week during college, like me, which didn’t leave either of us room in our schedules for internships. It’s a dilemma that Cynthia — whom Kate interviewed for the CMP Series story — often sees at Metropolitan State. “Student debt is hovering at about 1.2 trillion,” she told Kate. “Internships are lacking, and if students don’t have to take an internship, they won’t.”

Judging from the rest of our team’s experiences, Kate and I missed out. Interning at a suburban bureau of The Philadelphia Inquirer during his final college semester, Executive Editor Christopher Durso wasn’t paid, “but I got upper-level course credit toward my bachelor’s degree in English,” he said. “It couldn’t have been a better experience. My internship had a textbook trajectory of gradually increasing responsibility, from grunt work to covering a local township council meeting and writing it up for the paper. And it culminated in a job with the Inquirer that launched my journalism career — 24 years later, I’m still at it.”

The summer after graduating college, Associate Editor Corin Hirsch moved to New York City for an internship at The Nation magazine. “There were eight of us,” she recalled, “and our main role was to fact-check every article. In the pre-Internet era, this meant a lot of trekking back and forth to the New York University library for obscure fact checks. Our pay of $75 per week was barely enough to live on, but the experience was worth it: I was hired that fall for my first salaried job in publishing.”

Barbara Palmer, senior editor and director of digital content, landed a paid summer internship at a daily Oklahoma newspaper during college, and was “thrown into the deep end of the pool” on her very first day. “I was sent to cover a visiting congressman’s press conference on pending tax legislation affecting the oil industry,” she said. “I had zero background on the debate, and this was back in pre-Internet days. Luckily, I have a very smart brother who majored in political science, so I took notes and called him from a pay phone on the way back to the office. I learned a lesson that has served me well — if you’re in over your head, find someone smarter than you and ask for help. (Thanks, Phillip.)”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.