Journalism internship offers scarce in troubled economy

BY VALIANT LOWITZ
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 7, 2010

University students searching for high-profile summer internships at media organizations may have a tough road ahead of them as employers begin to cut programs in a last ditch effort to stay solvent in a changing media landscape.

Geni Harclerode, coordinator of Internships and Experiential Learning at the Career Center, wrote in an e-mail interview last month that many media outlets — especially print ones — are choosing to cut their internship programs or offer their interns credit instead of paying them.

“We have seen some industries cutting back on their internship hiring because they don’t have funding or the staff to help train,” she wrote. “As a result, these companies are not in a comfortable position to take on interns.”

Harclerode wrote that the economic climate has proven to be a double-edged sword with some organizations seeking to expand their internship programs. She said these companies think that driven and ambitious students are important for bringing in the fresh ideas that are especially necessary in a tough economy.

The Detroit Free Press is one of many media organizations cutting its internship program in the wake of decreasing advertisement revenue and mounting printing costs.

The program, which offered students experience working in the newsroom of the Free Press and provided a weekly stipend of $541, was cut this summer after being offered for more than 20 years.

“It was money,” said Julie Topping, managing editor of the Detroit Free Press and head of the internship program.

Topping said she was cutting out old employees at the time and could not bring new ones in, but was looking to bring the internship back as soon as the company's financial position improves.

Faced with similar financial issues, the Cincinnati Enquirer was also forced to shut down its internship program.

“Over time it became one of the more expendable programs,” said Julie Engebrecht, director of Local News for the Enquirer. “Do we cut interns or do we face cutting full time staff?”

Though the Enquirer no longer has a formal paid internship program, it does offer college students the opportunity to work with the paper for course credit.

“I think it's rewarding,” Engebrecht said, “but not at the same level.”

Though some media outlets are cutting their internship programs or choosing not to pay interns, for some companies interns have taken on an increased importance with the down economy.

Letitia King, spokesperson for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an agency that oversees all U.S. international broadcasts, said interns are vital to the organization.

“We benefit from interns bringing in new ideas and energy,” she said. “They bring a new perspective.”

The Washingtonian, a monthly magazine distributed in the Washington D.C. area, also has an internship program that editors there say will not be cut anytime soon.

“An internship is a great way to get introduced to the journalism industry, to make contacts,” said Sophie Gilbert, assistant editor of the Washingtonian. “Interns play a very important role in the day-to-day operations of the magazine.”

While many print media outlets may be cutting back on their internship opportunities, students may start looking to embrace alternatives.

“For students interested in writing and media, we have seen a large increase in the number of organizations from all types of industries who are hiring students for social media internship positions,” Harclerode wrote. “Granted it’s a different style of writing from a traditional print background, but it has also allowed many students the chance to contribute writing in a pretty immediate way to an organization.”