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Learning the ropes at a small-town newspaper internship

March 18, 2011

Amanda Lucci (@mandarail) is a senior at Ohio University studying magazine journalism. Today, she talks about some pleasant surprises she encountered when last summer’s internship search led her to the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News.

Amanda Lucci

Amanda Lucci (@mandarail on Twitter)

At the beginning of last summer, I’ll admit I was a little discouraged. As my friends jetted off to New York City for their high-profile internships, I was heading to my grandparents’ house in North Carolina to intern in the features section of a newspaper in their hometown. What I didn’t know then was that the hands-on opportunities I was given as an intern at a smaller paper would turn into valuable lessons in journalism.

Every morning, I’d wake up early, eat breakfast and drive to the newsroom between 9 and 10 a.m. I loved the casual environment — I could wear jeans or a sundress and sandals to work every day. When I got in, I’d check in with the features editor to go over my tasks for the day, but since most deadlines are decided weeks in advance, I usually already had a pretty good idea of what needed to be accomplished.

The best part about my internship was that I was treated like a member of the staff, giving me true, real-world experience. I was encouraged to work independently, so I eventually set into a routine that worked for me. The morning was usually reserved for routine tasks like writing briefs, compiling a list of the week’s top concerts, updating the regional concert listing or writing posts for the local arts blog. The rest of the day, I conducted phone interviews, worked on feature stories and sometimes left the newsroom to do more reporting on location. At any given time, I was usually working on two or three stories, a larger feature project and a few smaller tasks, so it was nice to be able to manage my own time in the newsroom. Especially for someone like me who gets writer’s block often, it kept me from getting burnt out on any one story.

It also helped that unexpected opportunities kept popping up every day. Over the summer, I interviewed musicians like Sean Kingston and the Avett Brothers, previewed a puppet festival and tracked down a vacationing Gosselin family. I learned pretty quickly that I needed to be up for anything — when a profile story of a wellness coach and trainer didn’t pan out, I ended up trying the program myself, and wrote a three-part series about my experiences with a new diet and exercise plan.

Sean Kingston

During her internship at the Star-News, Amanda Lucci interviewed well-known musicians like rapper/R&B artist Sean Kingston.

But it’s important to note that I wasn’t working entirely on my own. Once a week, the interns would meet with different staffers to learn the ins and outs of their craft, including copy editing, video editing, social media and community outreach. I sat in on focus groups and helped with promotions at high school football games. I met newsroom veterans and vivacious young reporters, all who had something to teach me.

My advice to interns: Any internship is a chance to learn and grow, so embrace it! No internship is too small, and no experience you get in the professional world is insignificant. Ask questions, offer to help and pitch your ideas — if you get the most out of your internships that you can, you will definitely benefit.

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