Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Interns

My niece is seeking a summer internship in the communications field, so I've been more attuned than usual to the proliferation of intern openings among the employment ads placed by media and PR companies. Indeed, you'd think that many companies are staffed predominantly by college kids working for school credits, a pittance, or just the sheer experience of it.    

Undoubtedly, the lack of corporate budgets for fully paid positions during a recession is at least partly responsible for this situation. But why quibble? Internships can be great learning tools for students and employers alike. The more the merrier, as far I'm concerned (and as long as my niece is looking!)    

But "Interns Over 40"? Come on now! I'm against age discrimination as much as anyone else who can remember a typewriter, but if I want to do volunteer work, there are opportunities aplenty with non-profits (i.e, Taproot, New York Cares, etc., etc.). I'd have no desire to take work away from skilled workers or internships away from all those college kids who are soon going to find it hard enough to get an entry-level gig.    

With so many internships seemingly available, however, here's some advice for applicants: you may want to think smaller over bigger. Yes, here comes an example from my own youth. As a journalism student at Syracuse University (Go Orange!), I coveted an internship being offered by one of the local dailies (Herald-Journal? Post-Standard? Can't recall). I didn't get the spot. Instead, I ended up at a suburban weekly serving East Syracuse and neighboring communities. 

I was in the dumps until I found out that the person who beat me out for the daily internship had been assigned -- as interns often are -- to a job nobody else wanted. He got the obituary beat! The poor guy had to call or visit people whose loved ones had just died and ask them for pertinent facts about the deceased. Meanwhile, I was assigned to look through his daily obituaries, note which of the deceased lived in our paper's coverage area, and rewrite those obits for our audience. I figured I'd gotten the better deal!    

But I also got my own beat. Oh, did I mention that my paper had hired two interns? The other intern was assigned to cover East Syracuse, and I, once again, brought up the low end of the totem pole. My beat was the village of Minoa. As I remember it, Minoa was about four blocks wide and four blocks long, had a church, a grocery store, a town hall, and a police station. And thanks to Google Maps, I can say my memory hasn't faded. Okay, maybe the town's actually six blocks long.

Speaking of totem poles, the village leaders seemed to spend an awful amount of time at their meetings debating something called "pole barns." Trust me, kids, this is the type of thing that gets ingrained into your subconscious for the rest of your life.    

Yet where else but a place like Minoa would I alone have made up 20% of the assembled multitudes at the town council meetings? Where else would a 20-year-old find himself educating the mayor at one of those meetings, when he noticed me taking notes and thus wanted to kick me out, that this was a public event and there was this little thing called the Freedom of Information Act? (No kidding -- you could look it up. It's in the meeting minutes, which must still be stored somewhere in the village archives.)    

Yes, my Minoa internship prepared me well for my future work at the weekly Long Island Journal (where, at one point, the mayor of Long Beach stood in an elevator, not realizing I was right behind him, and declared to his associates in quite colorful language that he was sick of the city and would be packing up and moving out overnight -- my first big scoop!) and the Brooklyn Daily Bulletin (yes, there was such a paper - you could look that up too!), into my transition to trade journalism, later to public relations, and all the way to this blog. 

I just wish I had an internship to offer someone! 

P.S. - Last week's Shop Around contest is still open. Be the first to identify the group singing the Smokey Robinson classic and you win! Interns welcome!

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