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What constitutes a good internship?

Hi Everyone,

I’m about to start accepting interns for the first time in my career, but before I do, I was hoping to get some insight from the lightstalkers community, specifically from members who have completed internships with working photojournalists.

An old thread (which has since been deleted, I think) outlined some of the financial aspects of an internship, but what are the positive aspects? What about your experiences was helpful? What did you expect from the internship that came to fruition?

I’ve catalogued the following list of skill sets acquired during my three unpaid apprenticeships in Australia back in the nineties:

- Conceptualizing stories and pitching them to magazines and papers;

- Editing the stories;

- Processing and printing;

- Deciphering the weaknesses and strengths in my mentors’ photography by looking at mountains of their contacts;

- Finding and entertaining clients;

- Networking;

- Caption writing;

- Navigating ethics and philosophy.

But that’s me. I’d appreciate it if any of you former interns might add to the list.

All Bests,


by [a former member] at 2009-02-18 20:34:47 UTC (ed. Feb 18 2009 ) New York City , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Honestly, the best thing you could do is pay attention to the business aspects of it, and to watch and learn how to be a successful business person.

Otherwise, just keep working hard, and ingest as much info you can along the way!


by James Martin | 18 Feb 2009 21:02 | San Francisco, United States | | Report spam→
Ash, I’ve never run a photo internship or participated in one (they didn’t have such a thing when I was coming along, at least not by that name). But I have run or participated as a mentor in a number of other internships (at NPR and in law firms), and I think there are a few principles which apply everywhere to internships.

The intern must get real access to the principal, to share in his or her thinking. In short, they must be able to understand the problem-solving process that the principal goes through.

The intern must be given some meaningful duties, not just rote manual duties such as cataloging, etc. There can be some portion of that — all interns expect it — but it should not become the predominant activity.

The principal must for a part of the time be a teacher of the intern. This can simply be sharing their views of a situation, a subject, a particular assignment, with the intern. This will take time for the principal to do correctly, so don’t think there is no burden from having an intern. Even if it is a “non-paid” internship, done correctly there will be a definite cost for the principal

The intern, if it is practicable, should have the opportunity to engage in (or observe the principal engaging in) some serious activities relating to the subject of the internship. This should not just be an office gig. They should understand the greater elements of “the life.”

The intern should give periodic, honest and meaningful (but cafefully crafted) feedback on what he or she is doing, things that were done especially well and things that could have been done differently and perhaps better.

The principal should never think of the internship as just a way to get some cheap labor. If that is the motive, you and the intern are both bound to be disappointed

Those are the thoughts that roll off my brain as I finish packing for Vietnam. Hope they help.

by [former member] | 18 Feb 2009 22:02 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Right, they are very helpful thoughts, and I agree with you on every point. Thank you very much. It’s appreciated.

by [former member] | 19 Feb 2009 03:02 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
I have my own thoughts on this subject. But I’m just getting back from a project meeting and my brain is a little fried. Can I get back to you tomorrow?
Hope you’re well, mate.

by Bill Putnam | 19 Feb 2009 03:02 | Washington, D.C., United States | | Report spam→
Of course, thanks Bill.

by [former member] | 19 Feb 2009 16:02 | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
hey ashley. i think it’d be rad if there was a big focus on constant feedback on the intern’s work. maybe something where in addition to the workload, they had to do some type of story they could set up prior to the start of the internship and complete before the end, with critique and advice from you along the way.

by [former member] | 19 Feb 2009 17:02 | Philadelphia, United States | | Report spam→
Ok I’m back and less brain fried.

My only internship was at NPR a couple of years ago and it was incredibly intense and incredible. These are the things I took away from it:

1) get the intern into the mix as soon as possible. In effect, push him or her into the deep end from day 1. This is the best way to get him/her into your flow. After getting a basic intro to the show’s booking procedures the first day we were asked to find a guest for the next day’s show.

2) sit down from time to time and rap about their work – their strong points, their weak points, etc. I started playing around withe the network’s editing software, editing my own take on an interview. The producers helped me learn sweet editing skills (“control their breathing, man.”) and pacing of a piece. I’m not great at it but my editing now compared to before the internship is way way better.

3) Mustafah’s project idea pretty much mirrors what happened to me. I was given a project (booking five different guests for an interview series over five days) and told to run with it after getting some leads from staffers. I worked with the host and producer but only met with them via email until the day of each interview. That research and booking helped me in the long run tremendously. In fact, I still use the techniques learned then today.

4) This is sort of tied to number 3. Let them work on a short project after successfully pitching it to you. NPR has (or had) a great “next generation” project called “Intern Edition.” We were able to pitch stories and I did mine on mixed martial arts and why people do it. I even did a multi-media piece on it. It wasn’t earth shattering journalism but I learned a lot after getting coached by staffers.

This is one wasn’t so much learned there but something I hear from former photo interns:

4) help them, as much as you can, develop some sort of business model or plan. I know we’re all struggling right now but a kid coming right out of university or grad school needs mentoring in that way. Taking pics is great but learning how to sell your work is important and not well understood by many. But that’s just my opinion.

That’s it from my end, man. I’m headed back to tame my dreaded nemesis — algebra. Hope you’re well.

by Bill Putnam | 19 Feb 2009 19:02 | Washington, D.C., United States | | Report spam→
Bill, Mustafah,

Thank you both for your feedback. I tend to agree with you in regard to helping with a project. That helped me dramatically when I apprenticed (interned).


by [former member] | 20 Feb 2009 04:02 (ed. Feb 20 2009) | New York City, United States | | Report spam→
Glad I could help. See you in June.

by Bill Putnam | 20 Feb 2009 15:02 | Washington, D.C., United States | | Report spam→
I can’t add anything to what’s above, but thanks for giving enough of a shit to ask!

by Myles Little | 20 Feb 2009 17:02 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
The fact that you are asking these questions points towards a very positive experience for you and the intern. Whomever you pick, I hope they appreciate the effort you have made.

by Brian C Frank | 20 Feb 2009 18:02 | Des Moines, Iowa, United States | | Report spam→

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James Martin, Photojournalist James Martin
San Francisco , United States
Bill Putnam, Producer. Bill Putnam
Washington, D.C. , United States
Myles Little, Associate Photo Editor Myles Little
Associate Photo Editor
New York , United States
Brian C Frank, Photographer Brian C Frank
Des Moines, Iowa , United States


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