The influence of media internships

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First published on http://www.mediaupdate.co.za in September 2015

A newsroom is an unforgiving environment, and quite frankly a terrifying place for a recent graduate to find themselves in, because although journalism degrees equip students with the theoretical knowledge of the industry, real-life experience is what enables them to slide right into the media machine.

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By Remy Raitt

Internships, especially the paid variety, are hard to find in the South African media landscape, but those who do scoop them up agree they are what truly prepare them for a career in the industry.

“The feedback we inevitably get back from our graduates is that they have learned more in the first three months working on the job then they did in their three or four years studying,” says head of the Media24 Academy, Adam Cooke. “And I think there’s definitely some truth in that, having worked with degreed and non-degreed people.”

Academia + experience = excellence

“I feel cadet schools are enormously valuable,” says Jonathan Ancer, who ran the Independent Cadet School between 2010 and 2014, “they offer a bridge from the classroom to the newsroom.”

Each side of this bridge offers young journalists a great deal and while it is possible to succeed in the industry without a formal education Cooke believes a degree is advantageous as journalism falls in a professional and skilled sector. “The things you learn in the course of doing a degree would take a lot longer to learn in the workplace, things like ethics and laws,” says Cooke. “So we do see the schooling graduates do beforehand as very important.”

Go-getter ground zero

When a rookie reporter begins their first job a lot of expectation is placed on them. “Graduates arrive on the job and are expected to produce,” says Cooke, “to just hit the ground running because everyone else on the job is working at full tilt.” He believes an internship softens this transition.

Abrie Burger who was accepted into the Media24 Academy in 2010 and now works as a news reporter for Son agrees. “My internship prepared me for the industry,” he says. “When you start in a permanent position, the last thing you want is to struggle with the basics. Journalism is already a pressured industry and you don’t want to still figure out how to write intros or do your interviews. I saw my internship as a crèche or grade-R that would prepare me to handle the real pressures of journalism.”

Making the most of mentorship

Ancer says that if internships are implemented properly, graduates aren’t left to sink but rather given the support needed to swim. “Internships shouldn’t be seen as ‘cheap labour’ either but rather the interns should be offered mentorship,” he says.

Burger says speaking with people like Debora Patta was extremely encouraging and helped quell nerves and define expectations. Cooke says the current Media24 Academy structure pairs each of their graduates with a mentor for their year with the school. “When you’ve got a good mentor the internship is invariably a success.” He says graduates who aren’t paired with a winning mentor also learn a lot; resilience in particular.

Lessons learnt

Building source lists, meeting deadlines, honing skills and producing real work are all takeaways from an internship. But Burger says they offer much more than that. He says the Media24 Academy calmed his nerves, gave him an honest look into what to expect from a career in journalism and taught him how to adapt to varying mediums of the profession.

Do journalism internships offer graduates the kick start they need? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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