(Interested candidates, please read this whole editorial)
At DigBoston, we like to have a lot of interns working for us at all times. Particularly college journalism students who will soon be seeking jobs as full-time newspaper or magazine reporters. Prior to June, over the first couple of years after my partners Chris Faraone, John Loftus, and I acquired this paper, we had taken as many as eight at once. But when we didn’t find ourselves overwhelmed managing that many talented young people, we figured, “Why not take more?” So this summer we had 17 interns—16 reporters and one marketing specialist. Plus two more reporting interns working remotely who didn’t participate directly in our internship program.
That worked out very well. And we’d like to do the same thing this fall—which is why I’m writing this editorial. But I think it’s worth running through our rationale for wanting to host such a large group of aspiring journalists again before continuing to my pitch for new talent.
There is general agreement that there is a crisis in American journalism. And I write about it frequently in these pages. The old advertising-driven economic model for commercial news outlets is collapsing—helped along by the rise of digital media giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon—even as consolidation of remaining outlets by a shrinking number of giant media corporations is accelerating the downward slide of regular mass layoffs of journalists in advance of the shuttering of thus-hollowed-out newspapers and magazines on cost grounds. Nonprofit and cooperative economic models have not yet proved to be viable alternatives for struggling independent news operations. And public funding for journalism is not yet on the political table.
The result of this unfortunate situation is nothing less than the gutting of American news media. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center: “From 2008 to 2018, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by 25%. In 2008, about 114,000 newsroom employees—reporters, editors, photographers and videographers—worked in five industries that produce news: newspaper, radio, broadcast television, cable and ‘other information services’ (the best match for digital-native news publishers). By 2018, that number had declined to about 86,000, a loss of about 28,000 jobs.”
But the story is worst for print newsrooms—the very sector that many journalism students looking to intern with us are most interested to work in, and home to the longform reporting that all other media outlets rely on: “This decline in overall newsroom employment has been driven primarily by one sector: newspapers. The number of newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 47% between 2008 and 2018, from about 71,000 workers to 38,000.”
This is bad news indeed. For working journalists and aspiring journalists, yes, but also for our beleaguered democracy. Which relies on the “Fourth Estate”—journalism, broadly writ—to hold powerful individuals and institutions accountable to the will of the people on matters large and small. A democratic society no longer able to support a robust and (at least nominally) independent news sector, whatever it wants to call itself, will not remain a democracy for very long.
Yet journalism schools continue to pump out more trained journalists than in previous years, an effect partly explained as a “Trump bump” reaction to our polarizing president. According to a December 2018 survey of nearly 500 journalism and media educators in 45 states conducted by the Education Week Research Center in coordination with the Journalism Education Association, “student interest in journalism is growing or holding steady.”
On the one hand, it’s easy to feel like said schools are doing a disservice to journalism students, preparing many of them for reporter jobs that no longer exist. Plus it’s certainly true that too many corporatized colleges are more than happy to take advantage of any academic trend that results in more paying “customers.”
But on the other hand, our democracy needs more journalists—especially considering how many paid reporting jobs America has lost of late—not less. And failing to train the journalists we need is doing a disservice to that democracy.
Which is why DigBoston is so committed to running a large internship program. We strongly believe that America should remain (or truly become, given our broadly left-wing orientation) a democracy and that having more journalists in every city and town is one way to help ensure that outcome.
However, we cannot yet afford to pay interns. We are by no means immune to the crisis in journalism, and inherited a newspaper that has needed to be gradually stabilized since 2017 before now being able to even start to think about expanding our operation. And eventually offer at least some paid internships. Allowing us to better meet our goal of always having the most diverse group of interns possible by every metric, including class. A goal we’re actually doing pretty well at reaching season to season thus far. Though we can always improve on that front.
So, interning with us means participating in a very open exchange. We ask reporting interns to work just a few hours a week—basically producing one article at a time—alongside jobs or other internships that do pay and school (although we also have some interns that are not currently in school). We let them start and finish their time with us whenever they want (a two-month stay being typical). We treat our interns as reporters. As “equals with less experience,” as I’ve long typified it. When they’re working with us, their article subjects do not know they are interns. We encourage them to pitch us stories they are interested to cover, and we also offer assignments to them as they come in.
Reporting interns write for us as long as they like and leave us with good clips with an established newspaper for their resumes. Plus, and probably most importantly, they become part of our talent network—people we know and have worked with, and people we can recommend for jobs elsewhere, or maybe even hire ourselves one day. Every two weeks, we ask them to attend “pitch meetings” with Chris and me. If they can make those, great. If not, we can work around that. Most of the knowledge transfer between staff and interns takes place by working together.
And that’s the basic deal. We also have other kinds of interns from time to time, as mentioned in passing above. As such, if you’re a journalism student (or a marketing, graphic arts, photography, design, media studies, English, etc. student), and you’re interested to intern with us, we’d love to hear from you.
All candidates for fall internships can email Chris and me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “INTERNSHIP APPLICATION” in the subject line. Please include a paragraph or two about why you’d like to intern with us and what kind of internship you’re interested in. Then add links to three clips (if you want to be a reporter, or three artworks/photos/designs if you want to work with us on the design side, or three marketing campaigns if you want to help us with that, or appropriate proof that you have skills in whatever other area you’d like to help us with), and a link to your resume. That’s it. No need to write long letters to us.
Our internship program is increasingly competitive, no lie. We don’t take all applicants. We are obviously looking for reporters more than other kinds of interns. But if you believe in our mission, love journalism and democracy, and have some skills to back up your aspirations, then you will have a good shot.
We look forward to your applications. Good luck.
Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.
Executive editor and associate publisher, DigBoston. Executive director of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Former founder and editor/publisher of Open Media Boston. 2018 & 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Award Winner.