Long pants, tight deadlines, and awkward interviews—MLive interns learn journalism at professional speed

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Long pants, tight deadlines, and awkward interviews—MLive interns learn journalism at professional speed

There’s a phrase often used by college athletes once they reach the professional level: The game speeds up, a lot.

I was reminded how this also applies to my profession during a chat last week with MLive interns. Some are college graduates; some are still students; some are staying with us in the fall and some were on the verge of returning to campus.

All of them – like me after my professional experience 42 years ago – feel they have a much better sense of the demands of journalism as a career.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is the fast-paced nature of real editing,” said Elizabeth Nass, a Michigan State University student who was an intern reporter at The Grand Rapids Press this summer. “It’s a little more relaxed in college and at your college newspaper.”

Nas is a native of South Bend, Indiana. Like most of her fellow interns at MLive, she had to not only adapt to the demands of a professional newsroom, but also familiarize herself with a whole new community.

Madeline Warren, an intern reporter for The Flint Journal, noted that being a native of Haslett makes studying journalism at MSU easier because of her knowledge of the field. Working in Flint challenged her in new ways.

“I’m just stepping outside of my comfort zone — it’s the first time I’ve really connected with a community that I wasn’t familiar with before,” Warren said. “I think that was also important for me from a journalistic perspective.”

Christina Merrill, a photography intern at The Ann Arbor News who attends the University of Michigan, echoed that feeling of adapting to a new environment, as well as a hurdle all young journalists must overcome: being confident doing the job in unfamiliar settings, usually among strangers .

“Being a young woman of color and going into communities that are a little more conservative and trying to find people to interview — sometimes I feel like there’s a little bit of a barrier or sometimes there’s some hesitation on the part of some people,” said Merrill, who is from Chicago.

“But I also feel like once they know I’m with MLive, there’s more openness. It’s a pretty interesting part of the job.”

I asked our interns what skills they honed during their time with us. Nate Pappas, our photo intern in Kalamazoo, cites an “absolute must” for professional journalists:

“I would honestly say getting offers, even just for pictures — to be able to just go up and talk to people,” said Pappas, a student at Central Michigan University. “Because even at Central I had a little trouble with that.”

I remember as an aspiring journalist trying too hard to make my mark on every story I wrote. I often paid too much attention to specific details or writerly flourishes and not enough to the themes of the story or what was happening around me.

Holt native and MSU graduate Devin Anderson-Torrez mentioned he learned that lesson during his internship as a photographer at The Flint Journal.

“I would say I just know that the camera doesn’t always have to be up – you can just spend time with people. I played poker with some exhibitors at a fair…it was pretty fun and I got some amazing photos.”

Hunter Bishop learned about professional office standards shortly after accepting his reporting internship at The Ann Arbor News for the summer, and it was unpleasant.

“I asked about the dress code and (the editor) said ‘no shorts.’ I was a little disappointed with that,” quipped Bishop. Seriously, Bishop got essential real-life experiences that will help him make decisions about potential careers as he returns to UM for his senior year.

“When I came in, I really had no idea what I was going to do. But I gained a lot of different experiences from local reporting to crime, all kinds of different topics,” said Bishop, who is from Houghton. “And I’ve definitely gotten better with deadlines and hopefully that will carry over into the next school year.”

I’ve been with MLive’s parent company since 1986. Back then, there were interns at our newspapers, and while I’m here, there will be openings for new ones.

The program creates a pipeline for future employees—roughly 20 percent of MLive’s current employees started here as interns. It’s an invaluable training ground for journalists wherever they work, as they work and get paid for 40-hour work weeks while sitting side-by-side with veteran journalists.

Merrill, as she enters the professional working world, sums it up this way:

“I needed to experience the fast pace, time management and multitasking. It definitely helped me grow a lot as a person and as a young professional.”

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John Hiner is vice president of content for MLive Media Group. If you have questions you’d like him to answer or topics to explore, share your thoughts at [email protected].

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