There are some experiences college can’t prepare you for. Interning at a media company is one of them.
This summer I interned at RaganCommunications. As an incoming sophomore, this was my first substantive internship, which made for a valuable and challenging summer.
While college prepared me for an internship in many ways, there were some experiences it did not provide—experiences you can gain only in a workplace.
As my summer as an editorial intern comes to a close, I have compiled a list of things writing interns must know, but don’t necessarily learn in college.
Contrary to what you might think, your writing is not ready to be published.
That paper you gave your sociology professor after a Red Bull-fueled all-nighter might get you a passing grade, but it certainly won’t pass the red pen of your editor—nor the billions of eyes online.
Long words, winding sentences, and intellectual buzzwords can slow down punchy and concise writing.
There is a time and place for a multipart thesis, and a time for a five-word lead.
Online audiences want the five-word lead, which took me a while to get used to.
The following sentences are from the original draft of my first story:
“Take the time and explore new ways to engage your followers. Develop ways to make new connections and incorporate as many people as you can.”
They didn’t last very long on the page. The shorter (and better) replacement is below.
“Find ways to engage your followers; don’t be afraid to try something new.”
Twenty-five words pared to 13.
In short—cut the long writing.
Takeaway: Your blog post isn’t a midterm. Keep it short and simple.
Brush up on AP style
Know the AP Stylebook like the back of your hand. Know it sideways, upside down, forward, and backward (but not forwards and backwards).
College professors look at big-picture writing. They have neither the time nor the patience to deal with AP style. Whether “ten” was a numeral or a word doesn’t matter to them.
Online audiences, however, do care. Improperly capitalized words and inaccurate abbreviations make a good piece of writing look sloppy.
I quickly familiarized myself with the AP Stylebook, and soon all my references to “Twitter” and “Facebook” were capitalized, my abbreviations perfected, and my hyphens reorganized.
Following AP style will make you look like a seasoned writer—and it doesn’t take too long for you to get the hang of it.
The Internet: the ultimate editor
Once your editor cuts your over-intellectualized sentence structure and AP style errors, double-check your work. Then triple-check it.
More than 2 billion people use the Internet. Besides the millions of other editors online, writing enthusiasts from around the world read your content; don’t expect them to be generous with praise.
In my second story, I erroneously assumed that TSA stood for Transport Security Agency. Within minutes, readers informed me that TSA actually stood for Transportation Security Administration.
Whether you miss a comma or mistake one acronym for another—Internet users will find the gaffe and point it out.
Takeaway: You and your editor will not be the only ones who read your work.
Act with confidence
College classrooms are familiar to students. Teachers talk with you and answer questions. Office hours are readily available, and you know what resources you have.
Reporting/writing a story is completely different. You start out with no resources and have to get quotes and background information from people you’ve probably never spoken with. Not to mention the fact that you’re now on a 3 p.m. deadline—definitely a challenge for a new intern.
I learned you should behave as though you know what you’re doing. Outside the office, nobody knows you’re a first-timer. By phone or by email, you are on the same playing field as every other intern.
I’d never interviewed someone over the phone before and had to do so for my first story. My contact was the CEO of a large social media company. To interview such an impressive figure was daunting.
I put myself in a confident mindset for the interview, acting as if I had done it a million times.
The interview went really well, and the quotes I obtained added a lot to my story. Apparently I sounded more confident than I was, because the CEO ended up asking me about Ragan Communications.
Takeaway: Be confident. Act as though you know what you’re doing and things will work out.
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