May 19, 2021

By Kami Rieck, Boston University

Sean Saldana’s goal was to work at NPR. But when Planet Money offered him an internship in 2018, he wasn’t jumping for joy. Instead, he pondered how he’d be able to afford to relocate to New York City on $15 an hour.

To avoid taking out a $3,000 loan to move to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., Saldana turned down the internship offer. The idea of giving up his dream opportunity repeatedly bothered him, especially when he listened to the radio show.

As news organizations prepare to return to their physical newsrooms, remote internships should stay. The past 14 months have proved journalists are able to report and document an unprecedented news cycle accurately and extensively — all from their home offices. Not requiring students to relocate will make early career opportunities more accessible to low-income students who would otherwise not be able to pursue internships due to moving costs.

The journalism industry caters to college graduates, which means it inherently falls short of recruiting people from underserved backgrounds. Nearly 79% of newsroom employees have at least a college degree, according to the analysis of 2012-2016 American Community Survey data. Remote internships would be a step in the right direction toward increasing socioeconomic diversity in the industry.

In the fall of 2020, Saldana ended up interning at “The Indicator” from Planet Money and then went on to become a news assistant at NPR’s “Morning Edition.” It was the remote internship setup due to the COVID-19 pandemic that made it possible.

“I only applied because I saw it was remote,” he said. “I’d calculated the numbers, and I was like, ‘Alright, 15 bucks an hour — I can live off of that for a couple of months.’ It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and this is as feasible as it’ll ever possibly get.”

Valuable mentorship and the ability to work on impactful projects are possible in a remote setting, too. I was a part-time engagement fellow at The Texas Tribune during the spring 2021 semester, and both of my editors met virtually with me weekly for 40 minutes each.

We talked about negotiating a salary after a job offer, the best audience engagement strategies, how to make a more equitable industry and even our favorite seasons of “The Bachelor.” They created a space where I could converse candidly about my experience as a fellow. Those weekly conversations were crucial for building a strong relationship with my editors.

Reporting, photographing, editing and everything in between is crucial during an internship. But another important part of the equation is that internships are meant to be educational learning opportunities centered around young journalists to improve the media ecosystem. Managers would be wise to lead with the mindset that interns should be getting as much out of the experience as the company.

The Tribune regularly hosted remote workshops for the fellows. From learning how to tell compelling data-driven stories to best practices for acing a job interview, the webinars allowed us to bond with coworkers outside of our assigned sections and expand our skillset.

A remote internship didn’t stop Salma Reyes from covering Donald Trump’s presidential rallies and interviewing sources in her native language, Spanish, while working at The Arizona Republic last summer. She said editors should take initiative to make themselves available by responding quickly to Slack messages or email.

When interns are spread out across the country, coverage can be more diverse, especially for national publications, Saldana said. Remote interns are able to build relationships with communities and sources outside of the major U.S. cities where national internships are typically held.

Camila Vallejo started interning remotely at Connecticut Public Radio in fall 2020 and said interns should be intentional about scheduling virtual coffees with coworkers and editors. Her managers also asked her regularly if she was getting everything that she hoped to out of the internship.

When planning for remote internships, managers, editors and staff members should make sure systems are in place to create an educational and nurturing environment where interns can thrive.

Constructive feedback is important, too. Instead of solely editing interns’ work, editors should take the time to explain why a paragraph of an article was cut out, how to better frame social media copy or why a photo was cropped a certain way.

Mental health and well-being should also be prioritized, especially when it is easy to work longer hours when working from home in the COVID-19 era. My editor at the Tribune encouraged me to take time off and was deliberate in ensuring that those of us in fellowships work no more than our scheduled hours.

Remote internships would improve and diversify the journalism industry as a whole. By making opportunities more accessible for people who have historically been underrepresented in newsrooms and news coverage, the communities that we strive to better serve will benefit.

Kami Rieck is a social media editor at Bloomberg Opinion and a student at Boston University. She previously worked on the audience engagement and social media teams at The Texas Tribune, The Boston Globe and Business Insider.

One story worth reading

The Washington Post last week named its first female executive editor — a historic appointment, yes, but also one that should not have taken until 2021. Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of the Associated Press, will take the helm June 1.

The Post’s leadership pipeline is male-dominated, leading the newsroom to look outside its own newsroom for its next top editor. “Virtually every major coverage area for which the Post is known has a man at its helm, including national, politics, foreign, local, investigations, national security, sports, Outlook, and health and science,” Paul Volpe writes for Politico Magazine. “The former business editor, who recently left and hasn’t yet been replaced, is a man. The editor of features is a woman.”

What does that mean for the newsroom’s internal culture? Men in leadership who hold onto their jobs, a lack of female mentors and a generation of women who’ve found jobs elsewhere rather than rising through the Post’s ranks, Volpe writes. “Every one of us wanted to move up, but there was no chance,” a former female senior editor told Volpe. “There were these blazing stars who you thought were going to take off, and then they just disappeared.”

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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…
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