Canadian media internships: glitz, glamour or gopher?

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Transporting gigantic lobster costumes. Transcribing hours of raw footage. Juggling six coffees in one hand, and four donuts in the other. You have to start at the bottom to get to the top.

Your Big Break

You want to break into television or radio, but you don’t know how to get your foot in the door. People may be urging you to find an internship. That is some great advice! However, when you go to look for more information, you may find that most internship guides found on school web sites are very general and not very enlightening. The advice is often vague and unspecific to the industry you want to work in.

Well, let me introduce you to two former interns who are now being paid to work in the industry they love. The best advice comes from the people who have had the experiences.

lobstercostume
A fellow intern "moves" a lobster costume. Photo courtesy Kate Morawetz.

The young and the hopeful

Kate Morawetz graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a B.A. in Media, Information, and Technoculture. The summer after graduation, she put two impressive internships on her resume. She started off the summer in Los Angeles as a production intern for The Young And The Restless. Then she headed back to Canada to intern at MTV for the rest of the summer. She currently works for MTV Canada’s in-house field and documentary team.

She found both internships with the help of the internship co-coordinator in her faculty. She jokingly quips that she prepared for the [MTV] interview by, “…watching TV and doing [her] hair.” But really she learned about MTV Canada by doing some research and thinking about why she wanted the position.

It is really important to know why you would be the best person for the job and to be able to voice that to the interviewer. Common questions that are asked include: What are your short-term goals? What are your long-term goals? Also, companies may ask you where you find your information. In this situation, you should not just answer, “television.” They want to see that you keep well informed through a variety of mediums.

Three qualities that Kate feels make a great intern include: a winning personality, strong work ethic and the ability to appreciate the internship as a learning experience even though it may include little to no financial compensation. An internship is about learning and if you learn well, the money will follow. If asked to transcribe an hour of interviews tapes, transcribe quickly. Do not creep on Facebook and do not be overly social. The television industry (specifically live TV) works on strict deadlines, so demonstrate to your employer that you can handle the pressure and time constraints.

Finally, if you are going to be a diligent unpaid intern and help out at least a few days per week, be prepared to either make some social sacrifices or get a part-time job to pay for your expenses. Many companies do not pay their interns.

Remember, as much as the company is doing you a favour by hiring you as an intern, you are doing the company a favour by providing free labour. Major companies with established intern programs understand this and will give you opportunities to do more than just fetch coffee. However, if you find you are being sold short, don’t be afraid to speak up. Let people know that you are ready to offer your assistance. But, don’t ever let an employer take advantage of your willingness.

From the audience to behind the scenes

Jamie Wilson graduated from Seneca’s Broadcast Journalism program in 2008. He began an internship at MTV Canada in August 2008. He currently works for CHUM as part of the events team.

Jamie’s foray into his internship was a little more organic and less conventional than what Kate experienced. One day he was hanging out in downtown Toronto near the Masonic Temple when MTV’s audience coordinator, Derek, asked if he would like to be part of the MTV Live audience. It was his experience as an audience member at the live show that sparked his interest in television broadcasting.

From that day forward, Jamie regularly attended the show (with a few friends who had similar aspirations) on Monday evenings. He readily participated whenever the Hosts called upon him to answer a question during the show. Soon after graduation the intern co-ordinator at MTV asked him to come for an interview.

Jamie’s story is a perfect example of how networking can often lead to the best internships. Sometimes it’s best to take matters into your own hands because the internship co-ordinator or internship bank at your school only has so many contacts.

He advises potential interns to act professionally. Places like MTV Canada see hundreds of interns pass in and out of their doors each year. New interns are hired every eight weeks. As Jamie puts it, “You may know people in the office but don’t act like you guys are friends. They get interns in and out of [the building] every couple of weeks. Though they are nice people, nice people need their space. Ask what they want for lunch, don’t ask them to go for lunch.” Be friendly, co-operative, and eager to learn.

Jamie snagged his current job at CHUM after a lot of perseverance. Having the hands-on experience he gained from his internship also helped to prepare him. He says that he “made a list of companies, printed off 50 resumes and personally delivered them to as many as possible.” Some companies receive hundreds of resumes every week so in order to stand out it helps if you make a personal connection. A few people he visited that did not have any work for him were still glad to help him out by suggesting leads.

Getting your foot in the door

Many schools have internship resources available for students who would like to gain real-world experience in their preferred industry. Students enrolled in the Print and Broadcast Journalism program at Humber College must complete an assigned 30-day internship (paid or unpaid) in their final year. Ryerson University also finds internship placements for their Radio and Television Arts and Journalism students. Finally, Seneca College requires their Broadcast Journalism students to complete at least 100 hours at an internship placement in order to graduate.

Even if you are hired after your internship, don’t expect to be producing your own show. Most interns are hired on as Production Assistants (PA), temporary help or other entry-level positions. Remember, you have to start at the bottom to get to the top.

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