5 qualities you need to grab that journalism internship, according to an editor

Shorthand skills and writing talent aren't enough to make it in this tough industry. Want a journalism internship? Heed this editor's advice.
Brenda Wong
Brenda Wong

We know the drill. Write for your university paper, take a look at some journalism resources, get internship. Right? Well, in my experience as an editor, clinching that elusive journalism internship isn’t that simple.

Sure, you’re a fantastic writer. You’ve got pitches for features that’ll blow your editor’s mind. Before all of that though, you have to dazzle your publication with your internship application.

When we were looking for a Debut journalism intern, we were looking for someone who looked a bit like the below. (Shout-out to Alex, who went on from being a journalism intern to a permanent role as a content creator!)

1. Tenacity

Qualities you need to get a journalism internship

When you’re a journalist, you’re going to face some tough stuff, pals. You’ll be chasing quotes from people who’ll take ages to get back to you. You’ll be chasing payment from publications who forget to pay you. Most of all, all that transcribing you’ll have to do will probably drive you half mad.

Great journalists are tenacious. They sit at their desks until the wee hours of the night to get a piece done. Resiliently, they pursue the one quote that’ll make a piece just right. Your patience and resolve will be tested time and time again. Editors will be looking for someone who can handle the pressure.

How to demonstrate this: Describe in your cover letter an example of something you pursued until completion. For example, if you relentlessly chased a band to feature for your university paper’s music section, show that you persisted and succeeded in grabbing their attention.

2. Creativity

Qualities you need to get a journalism internship

This may seem pretty obvious. Journalism is a creative industry, after all. However, creativity isn’t something you need to apply to your writing.

Creativity is a fantastic quality that can help with problem-solving. Most of the time, departments are stuck doing the same, inefficient process for a long time, without achieving great results. Injecting creativity into a work scenario can manifest in something like suggesting a different productivity tool, or suggesting a brainstorm session to shake things up a little.

How to demonstrate this: Highlight creative projects in which you’ve taken the lead. Organise a charity concert? Implemented a new email marketing strategy for your society? Clearly demonstrate how your creative input improved results.

3. A knack for digital

Qualities you need to get a journalism internship

It’s not just about having a large Twitter following, folks. Digital skills are going to become a compulsory element of employability for all. Print journalism will, hopefully, never go away. However, the reality is digital journalism will continue to grow and evolve into a powerhouse industry.

Learning how to use Photoshop, brushing up on some basic HTML, and exploring different digital tools for social media are just some examples. Blow your employer’s socks off by showing just how adaptable you are to new innovations.

How to demonstrate this: A stellar social media feed will help. When it comes to your personal brand, it isn’t enough to hide things you don’t want your employer to see. Take each social network as an opportunity to show off your digital know-how. Even better if you’ve got a portfolio on GitHub, Behance or Contently.

4. Knock-out people skills

Qualities you need to get a journalism internship

You have to have fantastic people skills to be a journalist. Mind you, this doesn’t mean you have to be someone who radiates sunshine and rainbows all the time. Having empathy, and an instinct that can help you navigate the sometimes tricky world of office politics will aid you greatly in your journalism career.

How to demonstrate this: This is something you’ll probably have to demonstrate at interview stage. When it comes down to making a final decision, employers often then begin to consider candidates’ personalities. The best thing you can do is listen. Take the time to evaluate what people say, and observe carefully to formulate the best responses.

5. Initiative

Qualities you need to get a journalism internship

This is a big one, folks. Employers are no longer looking for someone who’s great at executing tasks. Being a great journalism intern is also about challenging the status quo. During your journalism internship, push for more content about diversity because it’s important. Suggest a tweak to social media scheduling for better engagement. Private message your manager to catch up on your Instagram Stories strategy.

How to demonstrate this: Effectively demonstrating this quality is showing how you’ve ‘taken over’, or ‘took responsibility for’ something. You can do so at any stage of the application process. Like creativity, initiative needs to be shown to yield results. Come with numbers, and the outcome of the projects you started.

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