Journalism interns improve coverage, deepen community connections at indie sites

Journalism interns are providing great coverage for NatomasBuzz.com and MyEdmondsnews.com, publishers said. But better yet,  the interns also deeply connect the news sites with their communities.

For NatomasBuzz.com, a neighborhood in Sacramento, CA., the internship partnership started in January 2011, when founder and publisher Brandy Tuzon Boyd was contacted by a local high school junior who had gotten a camera for Christmas and wanted to take photos.

“Her mother reads the web site,” Tuzon Boyd said. “The student and I set up a meeting at the local Barnes and Noble, a nice neutral setting.”

They developed an easy working relationship with Tuzon Boyd sending the student photographer an email to see if she could cover assignments as needed. Tuzon Boyd equips the interns with press passes.

“She wasn’t driving yet, so her mom would take her,” Tuzon Boyd said.

In Washington state, MyEdmondsnews.com’s first intern came in much the same way to  Teresa Wippel, Founder and Publisher of  MyEdmondsNews.com, and new publisher of  recently acquired MLTnews.com.

In the Summer of 2010, she was contacted by a high school student who played sports and also wanted to write about sports. They met at the downtown Starbucks.

“This kid — who looked like he was 12 —  came over and introduced himself. I was thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ But I was impressed by his level of maturity,” Wippel said.  She told him she could pay a stipend of $50 per month.

“He submitted his first story and he blew me away. He handed in his article 45 minutes after the game ended, and it was pretty much perfect,” Wippel said.

At NatomasBuzz.com, Tuzon Boyd’s internship program grew when she approached the principals of the four local high schools and asked them to write a column. The principals surprised her by suggesting that the students do the writing.

Most of the schools sent Tuzon Boyd two or three candidates that they had selected for their maturity and readiness. But one school had not done any screening, and Tuzon Boyd had 30 candidates, which was too much to handle. Boyd circled back, asking all the students to apply. And then she picked three good candidates.

Tuzon Boyd works out the internship details with a liaison — two are career counselors — from each of the four high schools. Tuzon Boyd had a total of 8 interns last year. None of the internships are paid and Tuzon Boyd’s not had to spend much time supervising.  For that, Tuzon Boyd thanks the liaison who referred them.

In Washington, Wipple said her interns come from high schools and colleges and has become more formalized over time.

“It is a critical way to leverage a lot of content. A great way to connect with the community. And a great way to connect with journalism education,” Wipple said.

The sports coverage by Wippel’s interns is a real value add to her site, which is in steep competition with six other sites covering her town of 40,000.

Their work nicely complements live online streaming of high school football and basketball games that Wippel arranged, an innovative partnership reported on by  the Knight Digital Media Center.

In California, Tuzon Boyd said the internship program served up lessons all around.

“We learned next time you need to be more conscientious about how you identify the kids,” Tuzon Boyd said. “And the lesson for the students is not to over commit themselves.”

Tuzon Boyd also learned what works best with the partnership. She’s flexible with deadlines, asking the students to set their own. And she’s flexible with assignments – sometimes the school suggests photos and articles and other times Boyd does.

“I tell the students, ” It is really important that you  communicate with me if you are running into trouble or a scheduling problem.’ “

In working with the students, GoogleDocs has proven very useful. Tuzon Boyd’s also found the online chat comparable to doing line-editing in a traditional newsroom.

She’s just awarded one intern  The Buzz-Worthy Intern Award, which included a $100 award.  “She was Johnny-on-the-spot,” Tuzon Boyd said. “She had good news sense. Turned her stuff in on time. And wrote well. And she has an interest in pursuing journalism or communications.”

To select next year’s interns, Tuzon Boyd’s requested a personal statement about why they want to be interns, two story ideas, and a letter of recommendation. She is also giving them a writing test and interviewing them.

With the next batch, Tuzon Boyd’s hoping that by starting earlier some of the harder work won’t be as hard.

“The full benefit remains to be seen,” Tuzon Boyd said. “I am getting teen voices on the website and coverage from our four high schools that I wouldn’t have time to do. “

Tuzon Boyd would like to put together a more formal workshop program for next year  to provide more journalism instruction.

Undoubtedly, these are just two examples among many internship programs under way in the BlockXBlock community. Drop us a note here about lessons learned from your internship programs or give us a tweet at hash #myBxB. 

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.


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