How could I forget my first steps into a newsroom? Granted, it wasn’t anything spectacular — the community newspaper’s basement office had more funky smells than it did natural light — but it was everything I had hoped it would be and more. The hustle bustle of reporters on the go, the phone ringing off the hook, the sound of the printer spitting out copy; this was where I was meant to be.
I remember submitting my first story and being called aside by my editor. Was I about to be commended for a job well done? Accolades on my first story? Am I the best young reporter she’s ever seen?
Nope. I was awful.
Thankfully that editor had a clear vision of what needed to be fixed and the patience to explain it to me in a learning environment.
My next article was a little better, and the next one a little better than that. Between each attempt at journalistic excellence there was a whole lot of listening, shadowing and note taking. Each day was a new lesson in what needed to be done and what mistakes to avoid, and I am thankful to have had the experience.
Today in my working life I apply more things that I learned from that group of reporters than I do anything I learned out of a $300 university textbook.
I’ve come a long way since that conversation over my first story. I’ve been around the block and back and keep a copy of CP Style on my nightstand. I’m in a position now where I could possibly be the one teaching some kid a thing or two.
I recently set about putting together an internship program and was surprised to learn that there is some distrust around the idea of internships. While I viewed my editors as teachers and the newsroom as a classroom, some young and inexperienced people hoping to break into their industries view internships as exploitative.
Blogger Andrew Langille believes in the value of internships for young people.
“Internships are an important tool in the school-to-labour market transition,” Langille toldWP, although he numbers among those who believe that unpaid internships are about exploiting free work from young people rather than skill building and educational experience.
The difference between my hopes for an educational internship program and the views of exploitation set out by detractors may lie, it seems, in how faithfully businesses follow the spirit of the educational internship.
Currently there are a handful of rules set out by the Ministry of Labour, who regulate internships in Ontario, which aim to differentiate an intern from an employee. For example, interns can’t be doing work that a paid employee could be doing — a rule that seems obvious when you take into account that internships are meant to be for educational and training purposes, not free work. Businesses must also be careful not to offer interns any type of compensation as this can be seen as sub-par remuneration.
The Ministry sets out a pay standard for interns where they are either to be paid as employees or given nothing.
From my point of view the catch-22 is that if you take an intern in with the express purpose of teaching, detractors of the model feel that interns should be paid as employees because the learning takes place in a work environment. But if a business is paying someone as an employee, they expect the work and results of an employee, not the follies of a classroom setting.
The back and forth over the subject has led me to step away from the idea an internship program for the time being. I love the idea of creating a curriculum for an educational internship and helping to train a young mind, but unfortunately some current attitudes seem to be disparaging of the model in which I was trained. What will replace that model for young people in search of training and a foothold in their industry remains to be seen.
While I may not be a mentor in any official sense, one thing is for sure: in my own personal life I will continue to help young writers and journalists to hone their skills to better break into the industry as a friend.