Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How To Kick Ass in Your First Week

I have been working for the past couple of weeks, and I’m here to provide you with an extremely detailed recap of all aspects of my internship.

Co-Workers: There are two other online interns, about six editorial interns, around a dozen fashion interns, and a couple of more in other departments. I assure you, in my five-previous-internships history I have never, ever seen so many interns at one publication. I don’t really deal with anyone but my fellow online girls. Well, I’ll be totally honest… the competition is on. The journalism world is a cutthroat, fend-for-yourself, don’t-trust-too-many-people one, and, especially as interns, you not only want to make sure to be the best, but you want those around you to know that you are the best. So I don’t really like to mingle with the other girls, which doesn’t mean we’re rude to each other, but we all keep our guards up. As for my superiors, I like them. Everyone is pretty young in the office, so, in some way, I feel like we all have the same perspective on the business.

Lesson 1: Always be aware of what is going on around you. Make sure you know what your co-interns are working on, and try to do it better than them next time. However, be nice to all. You definitely don’t want to be known as the rude intern that always steals people’s thunder, but, rather, as the smart intern that always knows how to do everything better than anyone else.

Office: The office is fantastic. It’s funny, whenever I started my first internship, I had this image of what a magazine’s headquarters should look like… something along The Devil Wears Prada lines. Let me tell you- it is anything but that. However, there still is that one fashion closet that you would just love to sit in and dream in at all times. Here, we have tall ceilings, huge windows, and a lot of light, which is all conducive to great writing, in my opinion. BUT- IT’S ABSOLUTELY FREEZING.

Lesson 2: The weather outside has nothing to do with the temperature that your body will have to adapt to while at work. Wear that cute little summer outfit- but LEAVE A SWEATER OR A SCARF AT THE OFFICE AT ALL TIMES.

Commute: I work in Medialandia, commonly referred to as Manhattan, but I have to commute from my home on Long Island. The train ride isn’t that bad, it’s only about 20 minutes, and the subway gets off right in front of my office. Even though the whole commute (car to Long Island train station, Long Island train station to Penn Station, Penn Station to office… and back) takes a little bit more than an hour each way, I have definitely had worse experiences, so I’m content.

Lesson 3: Whatever your commute is, bring a book, an iPod, a magazine – anything to distract you from work-related thoughts. You will either be on your way to, or on your way back from an average 8-hours workday… you definitely need a distraction.

Tasks: As I told you earlier, I was hired to mainly work on the website and archive data. This has been the greater part of my job until now. However, I have already pitched my own story and got to write it. It’s great to witness the process first-hand. I stumbled onto something that I thought would be appealing to our audience, and I sent an email to my editor with a two-sentence description of what I thought we should cover. She answered, “Great! Work on it!” (and that was an amazing feeling). I had to contact the subject of the story, ask a couple of questions, write up the piece, and send it to my editor. All this seems pretty usual, and it definitely was. But I never knew how much work went behind even the shortest entry at a real publication. I had to forward EVERYTHING I had (interviews, seemingly useless email exchanges, websites and the like) to our fact-checker. I had to find high-res images to go along with the story (and most Journalism schools, as you may know, are still behind on the whole new-media thing… so I had to figure out exactly what kind of image could go along with the kind of piece I was writing). After fact-checking and editing, my little 200-words story had to go through this whole other machine in order to be correctly uploaded to the site. All in all:

Background Research: approximately an hour
Writing Time: 15 minutes
Story-length: 200 words 

Length of time elapsed from submission to publishing: a little over a week

Interesting, huh?

Lesson 4: Pitch, pitch, PITCH. Whether you’ll be working in fashion, editorial, online, or whatever other department… be proactive. Pitch stories, discuss ideas, research other similar publications (your competition) and try to out-do them. The most important thing as an intern, in addition to the experience, is to leave a mark. These are the people that could eventually hire you, that could mentor you, that could point you to the right direction, and that will be asked about you when you’re a famous editor whose biography is about to be written (I know, I’m a dreamer). So don’t stay motionless and wait for them to give you tasks. Show them that you know what you’re doing and that you’re actually an indispensable part of their team! 

What about you, Edsters? Do you have any cool lessons you've learned from your first week?

Be back next Wed with more,
Ed's Web Intern


  1. Great advice!

    The only thing I'd change is the part about being nice but keeping your distance from other interns. Sure it's competitive, sure you're in this for yourself, but one day these fellow interns will be your coworkers. Not to mention that if you have contacts, so do they, so why not expand your network even more? You never know who will be the one to put it in anonymous good word for you in your first job opportunity. Just a thought :) and by the way, if you're meant to shine, you will.

  2. Great tips! I'd add #5: Don't forget to eat lunch! As a web intern, do you ever find yourself so engrossed in the Internet that you forget to grab food? That never happened to me while I was in edit, but somehow, the web always distracted me from my empty stomach.

    Your points about intern competition were really compelling. I'm excited to read more about competition in the context of web work, although I don't quite agree with the part about not mingling. I wrote a response to lesson #1 over here if you ever feel like checking it out

  3. You need to chilllll out on the whole intern competition thing. You should make them be your friends, so when one of them gets a job at a cool publication you want to work at, you can hit them up without being a sleazy networking moocher. Plus, as a mid-level media employee at a big mag, I can tell you, there really isn't that much competition. Your other low-level peeps should be your best friends, so you can all help each other out and share the love. Plus, we don't care (or notice) if one intern is minutely better than the other. We just want all of our interns to be good!