The Oakland Press is using community internships to help bloggers develop skills in writing and blogging.
Digital First Media newsrooms are experimenting with Community Media Labs where we network with bloggers who are independently providing coverage of their communities. Through the network, we generate more traffic to their blogs and they provide news and commentary on segments of the community that either supplement staff coverage or bring attention to topics that we don’t cover (and in many cases, never covered regularly).
In the Oakland Press internships, Engagement Editor Karen Workman works with the bloggers to provide a meaningful experience. She provided this (lightly edited) overview of the program.
Our blog internships are tailored to meet the needs of individual bloggers.
Bloggers receive some instruction on writing for journalism and practice their skills by writing news articles. They receive individual instruction on blogging as well.
I tend to follow this format:
1) Brainstorming session to help the bloggers define a focus for their blogs.
2) Bloggers then work on putting together the following: Blog title, 1-2 sentences describing the blog, 1-3 sentence biography of blogger, three posts with links and an image to represent the blog. Our photographers assist in taking a new mugshot of the blogger if that’s preferred.
3) I’ll review their materials and edit/give feedback on the first three posts.
4) One-on-one session for technical set-up (if blogger needs this assistance). During this time, I also get each blogger to upload their first three posts and teach them how to incorporate hyperlinks, images, video, and other multimedia content.
The goal is that by the time their internship is done, they leave having improved their writing and learned some reporting techniques and AP style, have a blog up and running, feel confident in using Blogger and are motivated to create and curate content for it.
Here are some of Karen’s answers to my questions (again, lightly edited):
How many weeks does an intern work? How many hours per week?
It really depends on the individual. We try to be flexible — Linda Lapinski (quoted below), for example, has been out of state for a few weeks at a time last month and this month. She comes in a few days a week when she is home and we’ll start seeing her more regularly in March.
We recommend spending at least 4 weeks with us, usually 2-3 days a week and an 8-hour day is not required. We do ask, however, that interns attend our 9 a.m. news meetings. The news meeting is a good way to get interns acclimated to the workflow of the newsroom, get them interacting with our staff and to get them assignments.
Susan Fine message mentioned (again, quoted below) that she is retired? Do you have any interns who have to work their internships around regular jobs?
We have not had interns who are trying to work around a 40-hour workweek. We have had young students, high school age, in the summer; we’ve had middle-age people returning to college and working part-time, and we’ve had a lot of people who, like Susan, are retired. Many of the retirees seem to say the same thing — that they’ve always looked forward to writing in their retirement and are excited for the opportunity and guidance we offer.
If you had interns with a full-time job, could they work evenings/weekends?
It would be really hard for us to accommodate evenings/weekends. We are very thin and don’t have much staff availability after regular business hours. We do, however, host our blogger workshops around the 5 p.m. hour and that’s where we see more working professionals. The working crowd tends to lean more toward setting up an in-office appointment with a staffer if further assistance, like the technical set-up of a blog, is needed. An internship can be a lot to balance on top of a 40-hour work week, but the working crowd tends be a bit more tech savvy and independent anyhow.
Do you have plans for expanding or changing the internships?
We’re revamping the internship and workshop program. This is my first year in this role and I’ve been able to see ways we can really improve upon what we’re already doing. I’m going to put together a series of one-hour workshops to address several areas of educational needs for bloggers. Many of these workshops will also be relevant to the staff. What I’d really like to see is interns follow a program of learning that starts with news writing/reporting 101 and build a new skill each week, like writing for the web, social media, multimedia, etc.
We already have a lot of materials to start putting together something like this and I’m going to reach out to Kaitlyn Yeager (who oversaw training for community bloggers at the Register Citizen in Torrington, CT) to find out more about the course materials she might have available. Meeting monthly with the team at Heritage-West will also be a help, as we’re going to collaborate and share what we’re working on.
The end goal is to have a variety of courses that can serve multiple functions — provide greater structure for interns, improve upon our blogger workshops, further educate current bloggers (many of whom have requested such courses), and also benefit staff members who need help in some of these areas.
I’d like to get a more defined time-frame for interns — at least getting a group starting and ending at the same time — and have the group attend one workshop a week. Staffers could attend those as well; I know there’s still some need in advanced social media and multimedia. We’ll offer a series around the 5 p.m. hour for current and new potential bloggers as well.
Each workshop will have assignments — like, create a blog that has a video embedded in it and hyperlinks — so they can get some hands-on experience. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the training initiatives I’ve been involved in the past year, it’s that getting people to actually do the work you’re training on is so critical to that skill actually being learned and continuing to be used going forward.
Do you teach interns about ensuring accuracy and making corrections?
I do want to address some ethical issues in the initial news writing/reporting 101 session. I was actually thinking about using the plagiarism quiz you guys put together as a good interactive piece to include.
(I’ve sent Karen links to my list of accuracy and verification resources to share with bloggers.)
Two of the Oakland Press interns sent brief accounts of their internships. Here’s what Susan Fine had to say:
My internship with Oakland Press has altered my view of Oakland Press, the community I’ve lived in since 1989, and myself.
It has been a pleasure to meet the people whose articles and editorials I’ve enjoyed for so many years. I have been impressed with the attention to detail in news stories and the respect reporters and editors I’ve met have shown to the people they interview, the interns in training, and to each other. I expected the newsrooms in movies and television shows: exaggerated rude reporters competing with each other for “scoops” and asking insensitive questions of crime or fire victims.
At the news meetings and from my desk surrounded by editors and reporters, I am impressed with the compassion and assistance reporters and editors show each other, the people whose stories they investigate, and the new interns. All the interns seem to arrive with different needs and expectations, and the seven or eight I’ve met while interning here have all been enthusiastic and surprised how often busy professionals interrupt their work to assist us. Karen Workman and Julie Jacobson-Hines have been especially helpful to me.
I finally feel like a resident of Oakland County, after all these years of feeling like someone who just works and sleeps here. One of my assignments has been to visit the website of each city, township and village in the county to gather dates and times for Council Meeting. I am amazed how their websites encourage participation of citizens and the variety of activities, offer assistance and free educational programs to their residents, provide minutes of their town hall meetings, and take pride in their history, even of villages no larger than a square mile.
I retired eleven months ago, I had several hobbies, so I was not concerned about losing my identity. Unfortunately, my hobbies did not take me outdoors or to a symphony concert or provide opportunities to meet and talk to new people. While my house is cleaner than it has ever been, I found myself awash in dull domestic duties and becoming insecure about driving on M-59. For the first time in my life, I watched television shows because there was nothing else to do while folding laundry or getting daily phone calls from friends and relatives as bored as I was.
This internship has made me realize I need to get out more often, and it’s taught me about how to find wonderful places and events I can attend without spending a hundred dollars for two hours entertainment. I’m afraid my husband and I are “news junkies” and I also loved editorials, features, women’s pages and overlooked a vital part of the newspaper I’ve only discovered from “the inside.”
Links to a couple stories Susan wrote during her internship:
Linda Walsh Lapinski explained her motivation in blogging and what she was anticipating as she started her internship:
Because my time has been short, I don’t have much to comment on my experiences, but based on my excitement and high expectations for the blog I rate it a 10+.
The concept supporting the program is exemplary. With the wealth of knowledge, experiences, diversity and expertise available within Oakland County you will never have a problem with finding bloggers, articles and information to add to the paper, either electronically or in print. People have passions and this is a great venue for reaching the masses.
I am personally looking forward to offering information to the readers that is current, correct and concise. It forces me to keep my contacts and information the same, current, correct and concise. I look forward to working with you all, for as long as it takes to have an active awareness of the devastation of Oakland County wetlands from the invasive Phragmites plant. I also want not only to inform but motivate. It will take the action of many, individuals, groups and organizations, to reclaim the wetlands and help reintroduce native plants “one backyard at a time.”