It’s hard to imagine that anyone truly dreams about working in local journalism for the rest of their lives. They expect their degree to take them to the Washington Post or NPR. Going into college, people kept telling me how cut throat the journalism industry is. “Yes, yes I know. I got it,” I thought.
Apparently, I really didn’t understand. I wanted a summer internship but wasn’t sure where to start. So I applied to places like PBS, USA Today and Sirius XM. Yeah, they definitely wanted a girl with only one year of college experience underneath her belt.
In order to play with the big dogs, you have to do your time with the underdogs.
After getting rejection after rejection, I finally sent an email to a local start up paper in my county. I got hired immediately—and thus some of the best industry lessons I’ve ever learned began.
A local paper doesn’t have as large of a staff as legacy newspapers like the New York Times. So you’re probably going to end up doing a little bit of everything. One of my typical days involved me waking up at 6:30 a.m. to watch kids make paper airplanes then going to a town hall meeting where people yelled about broadband.
You’ll end up doing a lot of things you don’t enjoy—even things that you never knew existed. That’s the best part, though. You might already know that you hate covering government issues, but now you’re really going to know. (This comes from experience of sitting through hours of people arguing about one-way roads).
On the other hand, you could discover something completely new that you want to spend the rest of your life doing. Maybe local government is really fascinating to you. Sure, you could try to make your way to the New York Times. Why should you, though, when you love writing about the people in your own backyard?
Learning about the details of my own community is my favorite part about working locally.
I grew up in a small town, and I thought I knew everything about everyone. My graduating class didn’t even add up to 300, so we all knew each other’s names. When I landed an internship at the local newspaper, I didn’t really picture myself learning very much.
Boy, was I wrong.
My town has always been looked down upon by people in the surrounding area—even by my friends and me. I learned a lot of great things about great people by reporting locally. The people are open and honest, and very excited to have their story run in the county paper. There’s a great sense of pride that goes along with the media covering a story about you for your own community.
My appreciation for my little town grew tremendously.
There’s so many great people doing incredible things that I would have never known about if I didn’t interview them every day. They gave me hope for the future students that would grow up in my place. Also, it made me realize that my little town wasn’t so awful after all. You just have to know where to look. Of course, there will always be bad news, but the good news will seem to outweigh most of that.
Little towns offer just a glimpse of the big world you’ll be getting yourself into eventually.
I get the problem with working locally, though. Small town journalism is dying—but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to go as local as possible.
There’s no excuses not to, either. Whether it’s in your town, county or region, there’s something out there for you.
It will benefit you more, too. If you end up travelling to the biggest city near you for an internship, you’re going to have to compete with everyone else in the city pining for that position. Imagine walking into your first internship with no clue what to do, but everyone around you is somewhat of a big-shot.
With a local media source, they’ll give you more time to learn and figure things out through experience. You’re not going to end up just making coffee runs as a local newspaper intern. Instead, you’re going to be running all over town for a byline on your first day.
Truthfully, they need you more than the city does. Local news is more likely to be understaffed, so they’ll be more than happy to put the intern to work instead of shoving them on paperwork duty. You’ll go out into the field, take pictures, edit videos and complete days of long research.
By the end of the summer, you’ll probably know how to do everything possible in the newsroom.
Sure, it might not be the big name you want to put on your resume but you’ve got years to earn that title. Interning at a local paper will set you up with the experience and confidence to take you far in the industry.