The Internship

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WORDS Nathan Li

Not the movie, the real ones we’ve had…

Successfully scoring an internship is one of the greatest excitements we have as university students. The prospect of gaining real practical experience and potentially a real job is much more thrilling than the accumulated tuition debts that make up a degree certificate. But for those of you still early in your degree, what is an internship really like? And for those of you who’ve had one, and were secretly jealous of your mate’s seemingly better host organisation, was it really worth the juggle? A few Grapeshot members including myself are veterans of media internships. In honouring the many memories we have of higher education, I will take you through the ins and outs as well as ups and downs of our trials in the professional world.

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Mia Kwok – Deputy Editor
Master of Research in Media; previously Bachelor of International Communications in Media
TV News Room at a major network

Before joining Grapeshot, Mia was a news intern for a major Sydney television network for nine months. Mia scored the internship by being introduced to the Director of News while she was promoting coffee on another show. Her internship tasks were wide-ranging, including collecting vox pops for the 6pm news, writing scripts for the 4:30pm news, writing web articles, researching for long-form stories, and finding and booking talent for interviews.
“I was very lucky to have the internship that I did,” Mia said. “On the very first day I was whisked off to do an interview on my own.” Working on television news was an exciting experience for Mia. “When you’re chasing down a lead you get this hit of adrenaline,” she laughed. “It’s a buzz that left me shaking from the excitement. You feel like a detective and in some ways a bringer of justice.”

However, Mia struggled with the experience. “Like all jobs, the excitement wears off,” Mia said. “You can only ask so many punters what they think of [certain] news issues that they’ve never heard of. The Australian public are fairly disenfranchised.” The downfall came from the lack of time. “You have less than eight hours from when you hear about the story until it goes to air. In that time, you can’t invest yourself in the story, you can’t care about what is going on,” Mia explained. “The result is that either you work on a story that is empty or you do invest in the story and you never have enough time to do it justice.”

Regardless, Mia found the internship beneficial. “In the media industry it is practically unheard of to go straight into a job without at least a year of experience – usually unpaid,” Mia revealed. “What is even more unfortunate is often the quality of your internship doesn’t matter to a prospective employer. You could spend a year getting coffees, or a year working your ass off, but it generally amounts to the same thing.”

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Olivia Whenman – Section Editor
Bachelor of Arts in Media
Online intern at Universal Magazines

Last semester Olivia interned at the lifestyle-focused Universal Magazines. Placed in the online department, Olivia assisted in the online editorial and design for the home title magazines, including Grand Designs Australia. The online duty involved repurposing print content for the ‘Complete Home’ website as well as writing new content for it. The technical side included implementation of SEO (search engine optimisation) keywords, processing images and uploading and updating contents. Olivia completed the 100-hour internship (roughly two months) as required by the MAS350 Media Internship unit.

The internship was eye-opening and valuable for Olivia. “I really felt lucky that my internship was able to teach me so much about something I knew absolutely nothing about,” Olivia said. “Online editorial is completely different to print. For example, text is changed because we read differently and consume differently online,” she explained. “Now I have a tendency when I’m online to read content and wonder what has been done to it. Are there SEO keywords implemented? Is the title eye-catching? I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad habit, but I think it’s interesting that the internship has changed the way I see things,” Olivia confessed.

However, the experience wasn’t all linear. “I started off a little unsure if I’d like the internship because home magazines aren’t really my thing,” Olivia said.
“I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to do anything because I wouldn’t know anything. But after the first couple of days I realised it was easy to pick up information. So I read content on the website and soon I had no problems writing about kitchens, pools, you name it!”

Overall, Olivia is skilled up from the internship. “Knowing how online editorial works is really beneficial in the current media industry,” Olivia said. She was very happy with how it had turned out. “Everyone in the office was extremely nice and friendly and totally happy to help and teach you whatever you needed to know. Also if you wanted to learn something and let them know, they’d try to give you those skills.”

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Ally Parker – Former Contributor
Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing
ACP Magazines; Real Living; and Yen magazine

Ally has probably done more internships than anyone else in the team. In the first year of her marketing degree, she packed show bags at ACP Magazines for 30 Days of Home, Food and Wine and subsequently made her way into event assisting at 30 Days of Health and Beauty and Cosmopolitan Health then assisted editing at Real Living magazine. Having finished her degree last semester, Ally is currently an editorial intern at Yen magazine, writing online pieces and print reviews – probably the favourite internship out of all she’s had.

Ally has learnt from all of her internships. “I feel that I did benefit from the experiences as a whole,” she said. “They led me to the person I am now and the place I am at professionally. It’s a very competitive world out there regardless of degree, and I feel that I have advantaged myself.” More importantly, she gained an idea of her future career paths. “I learned a lot about the industry – mostly by osmosis,” Ally assessed her graduate learning experience.
“I learnt about what I liked doing and what I hated doing. It was a good point in the right direction. I have wanted a career in publishing for a very long time so I felt [the experience] was all necessary.”

The professional experiences have also developed Ally on a personal level. “I was a very different person back then,” she said. “I probably would have done better if I had waited but I was in such a hurry.” While she experienced some personality clashes at ACP Magazines, Ally is more confident with her current position at Yen. “[Yen] is a better suit for my personality and tastes – and I waded through some murky waters to get there.”

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Nathan Li – Editor-in-Chief
Bachelor of Planning
Green Lifestyle magazine

And then there’s me. I am not studying media, but I think my time at Grapeshot has given me half a media degree. I joined Grapeshot as an assistant graphic designer in 2011. I have always wanted to work for a publication ever since I was a child. I picked urban planning for I wanted to work on something of bigger scales. Grapeshot reignited my passion, through a practical perspective, for media and publishing.
I have done work experiences at both a local council and the state department for planning and environmental management that were more relevant to my degree. But interning at Green Lifestyle was never a complete departure from my course studies (nor is Grapeshot). Being able to work on sustainability communication fills in the gap of current planning and environmental practices. It is all about engaging people in complex issues through effective communication with calls to action.

My editorial duties at Green Lifestyle involved writing and managing online content and contributing to print articles. I had the opporunities to interview Cate Faehrmann, the Greens representative of the NSW Legislative Council, Marie Jenkins, founder of Australian cosmetic brand Kosmea and campaigners from Greenpeace. Currently I am contributing to my third edition of the bi-monthly national magazine. Writing about topics that I am absolutely passionate about to a broad base of audience is satisfying and empowering.

It’s been a joy to work with and learn from the editorial team. It is a much smaller team compared to Grapeshot. Interns’ contribution is always appreciated. My supervisor, Caitlin Howlett, deputy editor and online content editor of Green Lifestyle, said that it’s rewarding to see interns get experience and build on confidence for future employment. “It opens up professional networking opportunities within the industry for all involved,” she said.
For me, this is merely a beginning, as I will continue to pursue publishing and sustainability communication.

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Busting myth 1: People in the media industry
People in the media industry are stereotyped to be superficial, arrogant, demanding and quite nasty like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. That may have merits but it is definitely not what we have encountered. “The people I worked with were amazingly friendly,” Mia said. “It didn’t matter that I was the intern. I had presenters and reporters stop by and ask how I was doing, or what I was studying.” The cameramen were Mia’s favourite people to work with, as they’d stop for coffee while out on the road or waiting for news interviews.

You think you’d be getting coffee as an intern? “No,” Olivia said, “it was not a stereotypical internship environment. Everyone was super nice! And it was emphasised that no one was ever going to get coffee for some else ever.” I wasn’t surprised to hear that, as I usually get offered coffee out of co-workers’ kindness. For me, many are also usually willing and patient to explain and guide through different things when approached.

But Ally has had some contrary experiences from her various internships. She had worked with some“crazy” and “self-indulged” people, but that is not the case at Yen. “I love being at Yen,” she was excited to say. “The people I am working with are intelligent, closer to my age and have none of the organisational culture of consumption, obsolescence and the high churn-rate that ACP did or may still have.” It looks like what makes a difference to your internship is the people you work with.

Busting myth 2: Getting paid and other money matters
Don’t get your hopes up – none of us were paid for our internships. We went into the internship for experience. It was challenging as we had to work more jobs on the side to support our living costs. It was an investment of time and what we got out of it was quite valuable. “I had some online editorial content published that I can add to my portfolio,” Olivia said, “and I also got a really amazing recommendation.” I had my name and work published to a national audience. There were indeed some materialistic rewards. Mia got heaps of free coffee and Ally got “bags and bags of swag” with lots of freebies that she could use and even sell.

In properly structured internships for training and education purposes, we should be generous with our time and inputs, but with others we should be more cautious. The recent Warner Music and Black Swan cases in the US highlight the amount of exploitation of unpaid student labour in the media industry. Under the Australian Fair Work Act 2009, you’re not entitled to payment for your internship if it’s >> considered as a vocational placement and required for your course studies – for your own benefits mostly. You know that you are being exploited when: the internship is taking much longer than earlier specified; you are not learning anything new or beneficial; you are put on with unrealistic expectations, and really, the organisation is benefiting much more than you are from your time there.
Although we should not expect to be paid for our short-term educational internship, we should have the matters of public liability insurance covered. “As interns aren’t employees of the organisation,” Caitlin Howlett explained, “they won’t be covered by the host organisation. Most universities cover students for about a year after they finish their courses, but anyone can also buy their own public liability insurance. Costs range from around $350-500 for 12 months, and usually have an excess of about $500.”

Final advice: Picking the right internship
Internships give you invaluable practical experiences, and you should pick the most suitable internship for your career path. Organising an internship can be time-consuming for both the student and the host organisation, as Howlett revealed: “Often explaining how to do something can take longer than just getting it done by a trained employee.”

Diversifying your experience is beneficial. “Media students should give everything a go,” Mia advised. “It is such a diverse industry and you never know where you’ll end up.” It is about enhancing your experience. “Remember internships are meant to be educational,” Olivia said, “so if you aren’t learning anything, it’s not worth your time.”
Going with your interests and pursuits is important. “It really depends on what you’re looking for,” Mia said. “Mainstream media didn’t suit me very well – it is mind-meltingly boring. I never found it challenging enough and got frustrated whenever there wasn’t enough work to do.” I’ve found that going with an organisation that does what interests you is better than going with a perceivably reputational one. You usually end up being disappointed with the organisational culture rather than enjoying the experience. Dr Guy Morrow, former convenor of the MAS350 Media Internship unit, says that it’s common for students to go into internships and realise they are not what they want to pursue.

While you’re at it, Mia advised: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be confident in your own abilities. Some people think that because you’re an intern you need to keep your head down. I’ve found that, unless a company has a really structured program, they want you to offer your help.”
Dr Morrow also advises that it’s important for students to adhere to the organisation’s dress code – first impression lasts – and also be punctual and reliable. I was proud to hear from Morrow that Macquarie University is known for supplying quality students for internships. “With the right intern in the right position,” said Howlett, “internships will almost always have positive outcomes.”

So while some of us still have the privilege of living at home or receiving government support, we should try to actively seek internship experience to give ourselves a competitive advantage for future employment and, really, make our memories of higher education count.