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Your guide to internship application season

It’s barely fall, but somehow we’re already reaching the prime time to start applying for next summer's journalism internships. It can be an overwhelming process — where should I apply? Which clips should I send? How do I write a persuasive cover letter?

This week’s special issue is your guide to all things internship-related. Below you’ll find advice from hiring managers, more than 20 summer internship links and deadlines, an awesome tool to keep your applications organized and other tips for making your application as strong as possible.

And remember, internships aren’t everything. That might seem contradictory to the theme of this issue, but there are so many ways to get valuable experience without a summer internship, like taking summer classes, working on student media, or freelancing for your local paper. Especially at larger journalism schools, it can be easy to get caught up in the competition and collective stress of applications. Try not to compare yourself to others, and remember there’s no cookie-cutter path to a journalism career.

Hiring managers share their advice for applications

Older students and professors are a great resource for internship applications, but no one knows the process better than the people reading hundreds of applications each year. Five intern hiring managers shared their advice, the most common mistakes they see and the things that make an application stand out.

Be open-minded about where you apply. The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s internship program is designed for journalists who have some daily news experience, editor Colleen Stoxen writes. “If you’re looking for your very first internship, be open-minded about small-town dailies or a community or weekly paper — a place where you can work on a bit of everything,” she said.

Explain why you’re passionate. Your cover letter is a chance to use your storytelling skills to tell your own story and connect with editors. The Charlotte Observer asks for a short autobiography as part of its application, and editor Gary Schwab advises spending time thinking about the story you want to tell. “A compelling autobiography tells me who you are, why journalism, why The Charlotte Observer — and shows me the kind of writer you are,” he said.

Do your research on the publication and city. In a cover letter or interview, explain what interests you about the publication and the issues it covers. “This shows that you can take initiative and come up with story ideas,” Baltimore Sun editor Andy Green said. “If you talk to someone and it’s clear they’re not familiar with the site and don’t know what we cover, that’s not impressive.”

Pick your best work and offer context. The most valuable clips show your personal initiative and how you write, Green said. “If someone’s sending a great clip from the Boston Globe, we wonder how much was this person and how much was the editor rewriting something,” he said. “The college paper isn’t as prestigious, but we’re pretty sure you did that yourself.” Schwab suggests offering context with your work samples, too, especially if you broke a story or used public records in reporting.

Show a variety of skills. Even if you’re applying for a reporting position, editors want to see that you have multimedia skills and are willing to do some of everything. Public records knowledge, data analysis and digital presentation are also important in reporting, Stoxen said. “For copy editing, being a great headline writer gets you noticed, as does ability to edit for clarity, accuracy and fairness,” she said. “Our visual interns must demonstrate a strong sense for page design, illustration, photography, video and data visualization to tell stories.”

Follow instructions. Every hiring manager said the most common mistake they see is incomplete applications — if the application asks for a cover letter, five clips, a resume and references, you’ll be disqualified if you don’t include all those pieces. Present your work in a way that’s easy for editors to read, and meet the application deadline. “If you have questions, ask — but do so before deadline,” Boston Globe hiring manager Paula Bouknight said.

Proofread everything. “Don’t send an application to The Washington Post saying how much you’ve always wanted to work at The New York Times,” Post managing editor Tracy Grant said. Read your own materials before sending them, and even better, ask a roommate or parent to read them too.

Follow up politely. Even if you’re not selected for an internship, making good contact with editors will help them remember you for openings down the road, Green said. It also doesn’t hurt to send a note if you publish a piece of work you’re especially proud of after you’ve applied, Schwab said.

One tool we love

This week’s tool comes from my pal Marlee Baldridge, a multimedia intern at NASA. What other tools should I feature? Let me know!

Notion is a spreadsheet tool, but it's also a daily planner, or it could be a mood board, or is it a to-do list? It is what you make it. Notion lets you create a spreadsheet of internships, tag internships according to type, sort them according to deadline and then according to wage, and attach documents you might need for applying.

Insert screenshots of homepages to help you remember what the heck you're applying for. Delete the payment column, because it's too depressing. Add emojis for levity. Export into a CVS if you prefer Google Sheets. After you've applied, you can even have the satisfaction of checking the internship off your list and focusing on the next big thing.

Reading list

It might be tempting to copy and paste the same cover letter for every application, but writing a unique letter is your best chance at standing out, Katherine Goldstein writes for Slate. Keep it short and conversational, and use specific details about the organization. Following instructions is also essential. “If you send four writing samples rather than two, that doesn’t make me think you are overqualified, it makes me think you can’t edit yourself or aren’t good at doing what is asked of you,” she writes.

Some applications will ask for a portfolio, but don’t panic if you don’t already have a polished website. Dexter Thomas put together this list of simple resources to create an online portfolio for the International Journalists’ Network. He recommends choosing only your best work and keeping your site design simple.

It’s 10 times easier to gain acceptance to Harvard than to get an internship at the New York Times, according to Theodore Kim, the Times’ director of newsroom fellowships and internships. In 2017, 5,000 applicants applied for 25 spots. Kim shared advice with Poynter on being a more competitive candidate: Develop both news and digital skills, make the most of campus opportunities, and apply thoughtfully to a range of jobs. (Note: the Times announced last week it’s discontinuing its summer internships to launch a new yearlong fellowship program.)

Opportunities and trainings

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Edited by the wonderful Nancy Coleman.
This week's issue is brought to you thanks to Educated by Tara Westover and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, two books I devoured last week that are some of the best I've read this year.

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