Intern Chronicles: Senior Gears Up to Take on the News Industry

Building a solid body of experience, Ryan Arrendell stays on the grind

Ryan Arrendell completed her fourth internship, working for National Public Radio (NPR). (Image: Arrendell)

The importance of internships seems to grow every year and in every industry. In today’s economy, a high school diploma is the bare minimum, and a college degree or even two can be the norm. However, not having completed at least one but preferably several internships during a college career can really hurt a student’s chances of taking that first step in their selected industries. Although necessary, internships are not always easy, requiring hard work, discipline, and sometimes sacrifice. And it’s never too early to start, getting that edge on gaining valuable experience and building networks.

Ryan Arrendell, a senior journalism major at Northwestern University, has had three internships in her college career. The veteran intern has built a body of experience that will fill her resume, even before having any full-time employment internship. Her 4th, which she had this summer, was working as a National Public Radio (NPR) intern, specifically for their “Talk of the Nation“show, in Washington, D.C.

9 a.m.
Our daily editorial meeting kicks off. The staff gathers to pitch ideas and stories that fall into these categories: News/Buzz, Op-Eds, Chase, Damn Interesting/NPR/Big Ideas, and Elephant. The “Chase” category is for specific people we think would work well for our show, “Talk of the Nation.” Chase notes get sent out to the entire NPR staff—it could be an author, politician, entertainer—anyone really, as long as they’re interesting and relevant.

The “Elephant” category is reserved for huge issues that no one really wants to talk about a la “the elephant in the room.” After we get the days’ ideas and stories written out on the board —I love writing on the whiteboard— we talk about the “main idea” for our stories for the day, which all are ideally booked with guests.

11 a.m.
I’m usually reaching out to leads by this point. As associate blog Editor for Intern Edition, the intern’s Website and project, I’m also editing posts, sending out reminder e-mails, or scheduling interviews for a story of my own.

On Tuesdays, we do a brief segment called “Letters” where the host reads emails from last week shows that feature new perspectives or even corrections. We got a lot of flack for saying “Obamacare” versus its proper name. I get the lovely task of sifting through a weeks’ worth of e-mails for the jewels that get read during the segment.

2 p.m.
It’s showtime! “Talk of the Nation” airs live from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. EST. While we’re on air, I tweet twice an hour—one tweet per topic.

“Shows” are 40 minutes and “enders” are about 20 minutes. I screen e-mails and tweets that listeners send into the show with their thoughts or rants. I usually look for questions or viewpoints that haven’t been raised thus far and then e-mail them to the producer who prints them for the host to read on air. I have to be extremely quiet while entering and exiting the studio as I hand the host the e-mails.

At around 2:50, I head back to our nook to grab scripts for the next hour.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget lunchtime. (My least favorite part is not being able to sit and eat lunch somewhere other than my desk. It’s preferred that I stay around because breaking news could happen or there may be something urgent I’m needed for.)

5 p.m.
After our post-show meeting wraps up, I open the days mail—we get tons of books e-mailed to the producers and a fair share of magazines. If I didn’t have time to clear out the show’s inbox before, I’ll take care of that as well. The amount of junk mail we get is ridiculous and I still haven’t found the spam function in Outlook!

Arrendell’s Advice for Internship Success:

Be conscious of what you say and write on the Internet. Interns can be heavily criticized for posts they’ve written about subjects. Always think of the impact of critiques and other statements online and in the office— especially if you want to work in the media industry. You never know who may notice or comment, or who you might have to work with (or report on) in the future.

Be well-rounded and prepared for anything. Once internship could differ greatly from another. “Interning at NPR is great,”Arrendell says. “It’s a lot different than my internship last summer at ABC’s local DC Metro-area TV station, WJLA. I was always on the go shadowing a reporter, talking to people for “man on the streets” or rushing out of the building for an earthquake.”

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