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|| News Item: Posted 2005-04-02

DOs and DON'Ts of Applying for a Summer Internship
By Bryan Kelsen, The Pueblo Chieftain

Photo by Michael Sweeney

Photo by Michael Sweeney

Bryan Kelsen, Director of Photo Interns for The Pueblo Chieftain
So you want to be a "photojournalist"?

But first you need to get an internship or two under your belt before you graduate, right? Well, with the dwindling number of paid internships in newspaper photo departments and the increasing number of students in journalism schools, the competition can be pretty stiff. Maybe I can point you in the right direction so that when you decide to apply for one you will have a fighting chance.

For the last ten years I have been responsible for sorting through the piles of portfolios, resumes, and cover letters that we get from applicants for the 12-week paid internship ($350/wk) offered at The Pueblo Chieftain in Pueblo, Colorado. I sort through them, and make recommendations to our DOP about who I think we should chose as a summer intern. We are a medium-sized paper with a circulation of about 50,000 and we get our intern to fill in as vacation relief. This means that an intern in our department needs to be able to step in and fill the shoes of a staffer almost from the first day.

But first, you need to make an impression. I can't tell you how it is at USA TODAY or The L.A. Times, but I can tell you what does and doesn't work when applying to us.

Here are some DO's and DON'Ts

*DO make sure that first and foremost you present strong images. I would rather see 5 knock-my-socks-off images than 50 photos that look like they were shot from a dorm room window, or one night in a bar when that "cool" band was playing.

*DON'T include photos of your roommate, brother (or sister), or pet unless it is because any or all of them burst into flame right there in front of you.

*DO keep things simple. The first thing I want to do is look at the photos. Most times I do this even before I look to see the applicant's name. So make sure I can view your photos easily on either a Mac or PC. I don't need a fancy program for viewing or to have your images accompanied by music or narration. If the images are decent size, in the jpeg format and labeled I can view them fairly easily in something like Photo Mechanic.

*DON'T expect me to go surfing the Internet to look at your portfolio online. If you aren't interested enough in our internship to put together an application and ship it to us then I sure am not interested enough in you to go on an Internet expedition to see you photos.

*DO show variety in your photos. I want to see that you can shoot news, features and sports. I need to be able to see that you can make the kinds of photos we use in our paper. It is a very good idea to do some research. Look at the publications that you are applying to. What kinds of photos do they play up? When looking at our paper you might see that we use a fair amount of enterprise features. So include some strong ones. Don't have any? Then make yourself an assignment or two and get some.

*DON'T waste your time with fancy stationary, artsy cd labels, or fru-fru packaging. It has been my experience that when an application shows up with all the bells and whistles on the outside it has very little substance on the inside. Spend your time shooting the photos not trying to make your cover letter, resume and cd look cooler than everyone else's. Unless of course you want your application to be the coolest looking one in the reject pile!

*DO pay attention to details. Spell the name of the paper correctly. For that matter, make sure you spell EVERYTHING correctly. It isn't a bad idea to make sure you know who to apply to and to get their name and title right as well. When I was just out of school and looking for a job I used to call the switchboard of the paper I was interested in to get all the necessary information. We still get applications sent to our DOP that start out, Dear Mr. McLean. And that would be just fine except for the fact that Christine McLean is her name.

*DON'T call us (or email). I know that you are just dying to know what is going on with your application and where you stand in the selection process, but resist at all cost. If you want to stay in contact with us make an even bigger impression, then send me more photos. Send me stuff you shot recently. If you make our final 3 you will be asked to do this anyway, so why not get ahead of the curve and show it to me now?

*DO apply early. Most papers start looking for their summer intern either at the end of the year or just after the first of the year. I would suggest you get your stuff out early and send updates to let the paper know you are serious.

*DON'T use an email address that you would be embarrassed to have your parents see. This might sound a little "old fashioned" but there is just something about getting a cover letter and resume that lists your email address as (And believe it or not I have actually seen some more explicit than that!)

And finally above all else don't get discouraged if it doesn't workout for you. If working for a newspaper is what you want to do, then by all means, keep after it. Apply for internships, part-time openings or even just offer to hang out and help for free at your local newspaper. You may not be getting paid if you just go hang out, but if you can afford to spend a few hours a week around people who are doing the kind of work that you want to do it can only help.

Good luck in your hunt for an internship and I hope this helps you in some small way.

(Bryan Kelsen is a staff photographer with the Pueblo Chieftain.)

Related Links:
Kelsen's member page

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