Five Tips For Landing Your Dream Journalism Internship

Courtesy of ReasonCourtesy of ReasonGetting a journalism job often starts with getting a journalism internship, but not all journalism internships are created equal. Some outlets don't pay; some outlets don't let interns write or produce content; and some outlets don't do either. So unless someone close to you--parents, grandparents, significant other--can pay your bills while you make coffee and do research for nothing more than college credit (or less), you should be looking for a journalism internship that pays you to build a portfolio. Such an internship is a dream internship.

Fortunately for you, Reason offers just such an opportunity. And after two years of sorting through hundreds of applications for Reason's Burton C. Gray Memorial Internship, I've come up with a list of roughly five tips that will make your application more attractive to me, and by extension, to Reason (and probably to editors at other publications, so long as they are not run by uptight bores). 

1.) Follow instructions

If you look at Reason's ad for the Burton C. Gray Memorial Internship, you'll notice it contains specific instructions. We tell you what we want in your application (published clips or blog posts, not class papers), how we want you to send it to us (digitally, please!), and when you have to send it by (March 26 for summer 2013). Once you send your application, you'll get an auto-response telling you we've received it, and that we'll be in touch.

Reason asks you to submit these things a certain way not because we are pedantic jerks, but because sorting through intern applications is just one of my many responsibilities (and not, I confess, my favorite), so it needs to be as efficient as possible. There are almost no exceptions to this rule. If Jesus of Nazareth sent me, two weeks after the deadline, a manilla envelope stuffed with papers from his political philosophy class, I would not hire him, out of spite.

Not only are there disadvantages to ignoring our instructions, there are very real advantages to following them. The closer your application package is to our ideal application package, the happier I will be when reviewing its contents. Put your cover letter in the body of your application email (rather than in an attachment), and you will have the friendliest possible first read.

2.) Write the hell out of your cover letter

I know a couple of really solid writers who write really dull cover letters. It's like they dress their prose in a formal suit and then ram a metal rod up its ass, thinking it makes them seem more professional. But they seldom consider whether looking more professional (code for "boring") is actually helping them. I can tell you, it is not! Another type of cover letter writer doesn't spend nearly enough time thinking about how to stand out, relying instead on lists of accomplishments woven together with strands of business speak. Cover letters that fall into these categories are often bland and forgettable, which is not the kind of writing Reason publishes. 

If you aren't already, start thinking about your cover letter as an opportunity to showcase your skills and experience, and also your personality. Are you funny? Be a little funny in your cover letter. Are you analytical and good at simplifying complex concepts? Briefly do that for me in your cover letter. Are you capable of telling really good stories? Tell me a really good, really short story. As a writer and an editor, my favorite cover letters are ones that make me actually want to look at your clips. So be bold. We value it, and so does the Internet.

3.) Show some familiarity with the publication

My senior year of college I applied for roughly two dozen post-graduation internships, which required putting together and mailing 24 applications while also having a social life, running the student paper, and researching and writing my senior thesis. Slammed, I didn't spend a whole lot of time tailoring applications to outlets, beyond changing names and addresses. By semester's end, do you how many of those outlets had called or emailed me for an interview? One.

After two years of sorting applications for Reason, I have a pretty good idea of why. Every cycle, without fail, we receive several dozen fill-in-the-pub-name applications for a 10-week internship that pays $5,000. I totally get why: Second semester of senior year is frigging terrifying, and if you haven't already landed a job, then you're probably flooding the zone in a panic. The problem is, for that kind of money, we don't want just anybody. We want someone who knows what we do (we publish a magazine, a website, and documentaries) and where we stand on big issues (civil liberties, the nanny state, foreign policy, government spending, and negative rights, for starters). That doesn't mean there's a litmus test, or that a civil liberties advocate who doesn't give two hoots about the Federal Reserve is going to get passed over. But it does mean that if you send us an application in which the most specific thing you seem to know about Reason is the name of its internship, we're probably not going to interview you when dozens of other candidates clearly want to work specifically for us.

And you know what? You will be happier working with a team you know about and respect. So focus your attention and your application efforts, even if it's not on us.

4.) Tell me what you can do for us, because we know what we can do for you

Almost as bad as the application spammer is the applicant who tells me she wants to work for Reason because it would be good for her career. Thing is, I know this internship will be good for your career. That's why people apply for internships. For their careers. What you need to tell me is why you would be good for Reason's career.

And how can you do that? Talk about your skills! Are you familiar with content management systems? Are you familiar with and/or interested in certain issues and/or policy areas? Do you write even when you don't have to, like for a student paper or for a group blog or for your own Tumblr? (There is nothing wrong with Tumblr. I would love, for instance, to hire this person as an intern.) Do you have practice transcribing? Can you make coffee? Do you know how to use Nexis and/or Lexis? While we're at it: what is a meme?

Sell yourself!

5.) Be Patient

Spend the time it takes to craft a good cover letter. Be patient while a friend or two looks it over once or twice. Double check that your application complies with all the instructions. Once you hit send and receive that auto-confirm email, sit tight. Really, it's in your best interest to just try and be cool. 

Because no editor's full time job is selecting a new intern, if you email me or call me before the deadline to ask for an update on an application you know I received (the auto-reply, remember?), you're 100 percent likely to be interrupting me and 90 percent likely to be irritating me.

Granted, reaching out to check up is not a deal breaker. I remember what it was like to approach graduation day (or just the summer break) without a job lined up--much less an internship--and how crazy and impatient and anxious it made me. But the honest to God truth is that you absolutely cannot improve your chances by projecting that fear onto other people. So please, wait for me (or one of my colleagues) to get in touch with you. I promise that we will get in touch with each and every applicant, even if it's to break bad news. 

I think that's it. I wish you all the best. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Counterfly||

    Was there supposed to be a link in the part about Tumblr?

  • Mike Riggs||


  • Counterfly||

    A decent intern would have caught that! Just saying...

    ...that the afternoon beatings should be much more intense today.

  • Tim||

    I'm going to write my application on a hooker's ass. What do you think of that?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Just remember, you have to at least split the blow with the senior editors.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    Ooohhh, I'm scared. The Reasontard won't accept my application if it's not formatted like Reasontard wants. So, I don't meet your requirements, huh? Wait until you die. JUST WAIT! Let's see who fails to meet requirements then.

  • Mike Riggs||

    Jesus, just follow the instructions.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    You can't tell Jesus what to do. I'm telling God.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    Ya, fuck'em up Jesus!

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    Will do, Cap'n

  • Tim||

    You should hire that guy- to clean the shitter.

  • A Serious Man||

    "I want those heads so clean the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to take a dump in there."

  • A Serious Man||

    Good information that I will use for this and other internships I apply for for after graduation. Thanks Mike.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    Dammit I wanted "for for" to be a typo so I could say -- you might as well start digging a ditch buddy -- but the sentences makes sense.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||


    Jesus, forgive me for I have sinned. I am guilty of wanting to blame others for typos and yet I am one giant walking typo.

  • A Serious Man||

    Stick to rimming, buddy, I hear you're an ace at it.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast!

  • Brett L||

    Nothing about not Waking the Jacket, Riggs? Why do you want the interns to fail?

  • ||

    6. Read "Lucy Steigerwald: A Cautionary Tale."

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Not cool man...I miss her. She was fun in the comments. Warty hasn't been the same since.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Thanks, Cliche.

    I didn't know that "n cool man" was in Hit and Runners' vocabulary.

  • Old Bull Lee||

    Is she really gone over freakin' copyediting mistakes?

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    I followed all of these excellent tips...and I got a Reason internship. So zip it. And listen to Riggs, because he knows everything.

    And tell Warty I love him dearly.

  • Rasilio||

    " Cover letters that fall into these categories are often bland and forgettable, which is not the kind of writing Reason publishes. "

    Have you read a Chapman piece lately?


  • Old Bull Lee||

    I'll take Chapman over Cathy Young.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    I am familiar with over 9000 memes and it is fair to say all your meme belong to us. My awards have included a kewpie doll, hand delivered by the divine jacket. My writings are all currently published by Reason Magazine under the nom de plume Tony. For reference please say "Lone Wako" and "Joe" three times in a row.

    Cliche? What is that?

  • Cliché Bandit||

    For my story, let me tell you about a lonely Sasquatch seeking intimacy with hikers...

  • Robert DCannon||

    come join me in making a lil extra money no its not a get rich quick scheme like u always see where they want u to pay for a startup kit they are 99% of the time scams... this is real no money out of your pocket only a bit of time the more u do the more u make

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    You're no anonymity bot, bro.

  • SumpTump||

    So now why didnt I ever think of that?


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