Are journalism internship programs still relevant?
Internship programs have been one victim of cutbacks at media companies ― most recently when the Associated Press announced it would cut its internship program for 2011. The Maynard Institute, which has covered the cuts, speculates the program will never return.
The move was met with outcry from journalism groups, as the AP is one of the more prestigious news internships. Poynter's Joe Grimm writes how the internship hiatus will hurt journalism. He says a one-year stop easily can cost more than two or three years worth of editorial talent for the AP. The cuts of the 22 interns, estimated to save $600,000 to $800,000, might not be worth the detriment to the talent pool.
But the broader question is, are journalism internships really as relevant and worthwhile for publishers and journalists as they used to be? The traditional journalism internship, like traditional journalism in general, is somewhat out-dated. Publishers would be better off investing in and finding new ways to work alongside the journalists of the future to spur new ideas for a changing industry. And journalists would be better off working on skills and projects more likely to result in a job.
It would be fun to chastise the AP for not shelling out a few hundred thousand for interns when the company is spending $30 million on a new video platform. But I'm not going to, because maybe it wasn't such a bad move for the AP or for young journalists.
Looking beyond journalism internships
Internships from the AP and other publishers have been beneficial in bringing together publishers and journalists, which should continue in some form. For journalists, the most valuable reason to do an internship is not necessarily to get the clips (anyone can start a blog); it's for the industry relationships. For publishers, the most valuable reason to hire interns is to get more content producers and to recruit. Those connections don't have to come from the same old internship programs.
Nonetheless, internships remain the dominant way for journalists to get exposure to media companies. The AP's cuts don't represent a widespread apocalypse of internships; most are still alive and well at newspaper and magazine programs, including prestigious programs from the American Society of Magazine Editors, the Business Press Educational Foundation, The New York Times and Bloomberg.
While I appreciate what internship programs have achieved for me and many others, if I were a journalism student today, I wouldn't worry so much about competing for the same internships everyone else is competing for. Journalism students would often be better off being entrepreneurs, creating their own websites, rather than hustling for traditional media outlets that might not be hiring down the road. Luckily, more entrepreneurial journalism programs are cropping up.
For publishers, the key is to think outside the internship box and invest in recruitment of a different kind. Why not facilitate more meet-ups or educational functions to foster relationships with forward-thinking journalists? We are already seeing more partnerships with journalism schools, most notably from AOL's Patch, a less traditional publisher ― but one of the largest hirers of journalists this year (UPDATE: Patch announced an internship program, but it's a different take on the old model, promising to offer "on-the-street working-in-the-community digital-story-telling and social-media future-of-local-news jobs"). More traditional publishers like The New York Times and The Arizona Republic are also collaborating with journalism schools beyond hiring interns. The AP would be wise to follow suit.