No internship, no problem: 5 ways to put your summer to work
By Marlee Baldridge
So you didn’t get the internship. You graduated, but you don’t have a job. You don’t have the money or the room in your schedule to study abroad. Instagram and Twitter have become a minefield of envy and you have “personal news” on your list of muted words. When people ask what you’re doing this summer, you run through a mental list of answers that are some variation of, “Mind your own business.”
I get it! During my undergrad education, I didn’t swing a single journalism internship. I was going to school in the summers to graduate with both my degrees on time. I didn’t have the time to study abroad or leave town for an underpaying internship.
But just because you don’t have an internship doesn’t mean you can’t build a mean portfolio. Here are some summer projects to take on if you’re hungry for journalism experience, but flying solo.
1. Start volunteering.
Sophomore year, I volunteered my time at a dinky little pop-culture blog writing about comic books. I wrote two articles and made one video per month. I was okay with not being paid because I knew these articles weren’t very good. In return, the blog gave my work a legitimate platform and encouraged me to be innovative with my writing. That summer, I made an interactive graphic which impressed future employers.
Hannah Haynes, a producer at Wisconsin Public Radio and an old Mizzou colleague, said she volunteered at a local NPR station while working two jobs over the summer to gain fluency in NPR-member stations. “Obviously, not paid, [but] it’s something you can certainly do along with jobs you have if the station can be flexible with you,” she said.
2. Start freelancing.
This is an underrated skill for journalists. Learning to think about projects in terms of value vs. time invested will help you evaluate future job opportunities (especially if your newsroom comes up against budget cuts). I know this can be daunting, but the best way to get good at freelancing is simply by jumping in. Pitch often and know the value of your work. Here is a group that posts freelance opportunities every Tuesday and here is a Google sheet I made to help you decide your rate.
Now go get that bread!
3. Improve your community ties.
Simon Galperin is a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute who’s worked for GroundSource and directs the Info Community Coop. “Spend the summer hearing from your community about their needs and write up the findings,” he told me. “You'll have done a service to your community by documenting their information ecosystem and needs and have produced something few students or interns ever do.”
If you ever wanted to get into academics or community journalism (like me), this is a fantastic idea. Being able to show employers that you have the dedication for such a project and know how to cultivate community connections is extremely valuable to any journalist. Plus, this is an opportunity for a LOT of story ideas. Here is a book about how to conduct research interviews, which is a bit different than journalism interviews. Here is a guide about conducting surveys. Remember, if you’re looking for information needs, not everyone is online or knows how to operate a Google form!
4. Learn new skills.
While not everyone has time (or the cash) to go to school over the summer, that doesn’t mean we can’t get some new skills for the fall. The biggest facilitator of learning is and will always be the local public library. Often libraries will have free subscriptions to skill-sharing websites. My beloved local Daniel Boone Regional Library has free Lynda.com subscriptions for patrons.
Auditing a local class might also be helpful. “Auditing” means that you pay for the class with a big discount because you’re not receiving class credit. Look into your school’s own skills workshops. Sometimes it will offer short classes for Adobe Creative Cloud or coding at a discount for students. You can also learn pretty much anything on YouTube.
5. Take a breather.
Take the summer to work on something you enjoy. Buy a new planner and set goals for yourself. Run a 5K. Make that vlog about obscure medieval art. Become a plant mom. Focus on things other than journalism, which is a demanding and unfair field no matter where you are in the newsroom. Plus, you might learn something from your job that an internship couldn’t teach you.
Working on a personal goal through the summer will help you refocus in the fall. It will also give you something more interesting to talk about than Jonathan, who spent the summer in Brussels and just can’t get over how different everything is now! He can’t even remember how to use American public transit because it’s just so different and the coffee isn’t as good and oh do you remember when we went to...
Marlee Baldridge is the 2019 summer research fellow for the American Press Institute and a grad student at the University of Missouri. At one time, she was also the comics beat editor for Fangirl the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @MarleeWith2Es.