The Heat is On: DC Summer Interning

Every year, thousands of interns flock the city for some real world experience, exploration of a thriving town and a chance to make their mark in their field. Two years ago, I was that kid–the one from a small town in Indiana who came to DC to mingle with the best of the best in the journalism world. I started my intern career working at USA Weekend out in McLean, Virginia, and that inspired me to come back and go to graduate school here. I’ve known since I stepped foot on AU’s campus that this city is what I want to call home for the next few years. People here love to work hard, play hard, learn new things and make a difference.

I’ve had about seven internships since my first experience at USA Weekend. With each place comes successes, failures, contacts and lessons that I can pass on to up and coming interns. Right now, I am interning at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an international broadcasting news service in Washington, D.C. RFE has a strong online/multimedia presence and reporters in DC covering foreign policy. What’s awesome about this place is that it has a strong humanitarian message along with providing news from hard-to-reach, barely reported areas: it aims to bring press freedom to countries (some you’ve probably never heard or cared about) who don’t have independent media. I decided this year that I’d like to focus on international news, and so looking at a place like RFE was only natural.

But what do you, as a starting intern, want out of your experience? More often than not, you are working for free and it is in fact costing you to be here. What’s the tradeoff for you? Even if they don’t make you feel like it, you are a commodity to these places and can produce positive output for them at no cost. If you’re sitting around playing on Facebook or sending faxes all day, probably not so much. Through the years, I’ve gotten better at gauging which internships are valuable and which are a waste of time. Obviously, if you work at a big-name place, you won’t get as much responsibility–but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for degrading slave work. I’ve worked at both big-name and small businesses and have found ways to excel given the limitations of both. I’d have to say that my current internship has been one of the most rewarding because 1) I believe in the mission of the company 2) I am deeply interested in the topics we cover and 3) they give me freedom to conquer new territory and make an impact on their output. I truly feel like part of the team and not just an “intern.”

So what’s to come of this summer? I’ll be doing news stories, blogs, researching, managing social media, and trying new web programs that would increase our readership. I’ve been there for almost six months and can’t wait for more.