May 6, 2020

The Lead is a weekly newsletter that provides resources and connections for student journalists in both college and high school. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every Wednesday morning.

Your summer internship got canceled. What now?

Newsrooms around the country are canceling or delaying summer internships as they adjust to working during a pandemic. It’s an understandable logistical and financial move, but still devastating to the thousands of students who were planning to work at news organizations.

If your summer plans are dashed, what can you do? There’s no replacement for the experience and mentorship that come with a summer internship, but there are steps you can take to keep honing your skills. 

These suggestions come with an important caveat, though: Staying safe and healthy (physically and mentally) should be your top priority. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, nothing is normal, and you don’t have to use every minute of unexpected downtime to be productive.

With help from webinars hosted by Poynter and Investigative Reporters & Editors, here are some steps you can take to make the most of your internship-less summer. (Also recommended reading: Marlee Baldridge’s great ideas for making the most of your internship-less summer from The Lead last year.)

Keep in touch with the editors who were supposed to manage you. Reach out and see if they have time for a phone call to talk about your journalism goals and connect you with others in the newsroom.  If you have story ideas you’re interested in pitching and working on remotely, let them know. Building a relationship means you’ll be on their mind for future job or internship openings.

Connect with your intern cohort. If you have the contact information for other students you were supposed to intern with, reach out and see what they’re up to. Even remotely, you can still stay in touch and have some of the valuable peer support internships provide.

Create a self-directed project for your summer. What do you see missing from your local news coverage, and how can you tap into your expertise to tell unique stories? Taking the initiative to start a reporting project on your own time will show future employers that you can think creatively without assignments. Always make sure to follow public health guidelines and don’t put yourself or others at risk while reporting.

Keep working for your student publication. Student media staffs often thin out over the summer when people leave campus for other plans. There’s no shortage of news to keep covering (see last week’s newsletter issue for story ideas), and your reporting might be most valuable in the areas you know best.

Spend time polishing your portfolio. Collecting and organizing past work can be time-consuming, but it’s a great time to clean up your online portfolio for future applications. (If you’re just getting started, a free WordPress site will do the trick.) Auditing your own work will help you find any holes or things you want to work on, and now you can … 

Take the time to learn some new skills. If you’re still in school, consider taking an online class to get some credits out of the way during the summer. If you’ve graduated, what could you spend time learning that will round out your abilities and make you a better job candidate? A few places to start: Poynter’s NewsU, Lynda/LinkedIn Learning (often available for free through your local library), Codecademy, Coursera and good old-fashioned YouTube.

Get connected with professional organizations. Beat-specific journalism organizations and affinity groups offer an abundance of resources for early-career journalists, from training to mentorship programs. Larger cities often have their own local chapters of these groups, too. Student memberships to professional organizations are usually heavily discounted. 

Consider how you can still list the internship on your resume. Even though you don’t have the clips from the summer, being selected for an internship is still a mark of your abilities. Consider adding a line to an “awards and honors” section such as “Selected for NPR’s All Things Considered internship for summer 2020, which was canceled due to the pandemic.” 

See if your university has funds available to support your journalism. The City University of New York launched a summer reporting service staffed by students, the Reynolds Journalism Institute is funding internships for University of Missouri students, and Columbia University is offering reporting grants and internship funding. Not every school has those formalized programs, but it’s worth asking professors if they know of opportunities.

Look for non-journalism jobs, too. Newsroom jobs are scarce right now, but local organizations might be hiring for communication jobs or other roles that can use your journalism skills (contact tracing for a health department?). I’m not a hiring manager, but I doubt any future employer would wonder why you have a journalism resume gap of a few months during a pandemic.

One tool we love

I started using Codecademy to learn HTML and CSS years ago, and those skills helped me fine-tune (many variations of) my personal portfolio site. The look of the platform has changed since then, but the goal hasn’t: providing user-friendly interactive classes that teach coding. The free version includes 180 hours of classes, and a $20/month pro subscription provides even more options.

What’s your favorite tool that other student journalists should know about? Email me and I might feature it in a future issue.

One story worth reading

Is it cheating to include dozens of stories worth reading this week? The Pulitzer Prize winners announced on Monday showcase the best of journalism in the past year, from investigations of predatory bill collection to interactive features on climate change. Here’s a comprehensive list compiled by Poynter’s Ren LaForme. Spend some time exploring the winners and finalists and you might just find a story idea.

Opportunities and trainings

  • Webinars:
    • Poynter: Job hunting during a pandemic (video posted)
    • IRE: How to best prepare for summer and beyond with or without an internship, Investigating higher ed amid COVID-19 (videos posted)
    • SPJ: College media revenue reversal: How will you survive after the shutdown? (May 6)
    • YR Media: Finding diverse sources in the digital age (May 11)
  • High school students, apply for Quill & Scroll’s scholarships by May 10. 
  • Submit a podcast to The New York Times’ student contest by May 19.
  • Apply for the Student Press Law Center’s press freedom awards for high school and college journalists by May 22.
  • The Society of Professional Journalists seeks interns to cover the Excellence in Journalism conference in Washington, D.C., this fall. Apply by May 24.
  • The Native American Journalism Fellowship for college students includes a reporting immersion at the National Native Media Conference, mentorship and trainings. Apply by May 31. 
  • BigPicture is giving two $2,500 grants to photographers between the ages of 18 and 25. Apply here by May 31.

💌 Last week’s newsletter: An exciting announcement + 10 coronavirus story ideas

📣 I want to hear from you. What would you like to see in the newsletter? Have a cool project to share? Email

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Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at…
Taylor Blatchford

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