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Internships at The Washington Post

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Leonard Downie Jr.
Executive Editor
Tuesday, September 26, 2006; 12:00 PM

Do you want the scoop on summer internships in The Post's newsroom? Here's your chance to chat about the program with Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. , who was among the first interns at The Post and is directly involved with selecting the class each year. Details about how the 12-week program works and how to apply can be found here. But as the Nov. 1 application deadline nears, Downie was on hand to help potential applicants better understand the program, the highly competitive selection process and working in The Post's newsroom.

The transcript follows. .

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Washington, D.C.: What is the number one characteristic you look for when selecting summer reporting interns?

Leonard Downie Jr.: The ability to work as a journalist in our newsroom for ten weeks in the summer and the potential to eventually be hired by The Washington Post. Previous internships at newspapers at or near our level make a big difference.

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Newcastle, U.K.: Do you take on international interns?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Almost never because of visa requirements and differences in journalistic training.

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Chico, Calif.: I just recently finished a copy-editing internship at a medium-sized newspaper. Why would The Washington Post be the ideal next step? What is expected of copy editors? How much power are they given? What is the work load?

Leonard Downie Jr.: The number one reason to want to have a copy editing summer internship at the Post is that a large proportion of the copy editors we've hired in recent recent years -- and who have advanced rapidly in our newsroom -- have been summer interns here. Copy editors in particular are able to demonstrate in ten weeks whether they work well at our level. The work load is intense but copy editors here usually handle fewer stories than at other papers because we want the quality of editing to be as high as possible. Copy editors here do the final editing on stories, write headlines and photo captions for them and do electronic type-setting. They share editorial decision-making with assignment editors who do the first edits on stories and their bosses, the section editors. We have individual copy desks for our various sections -- National, Foreign, Metro, Sports, Financial, Style, etc. -- rather than a universal copy desk.

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Stanford, Calif.: What are you looking for in the 500-word bio?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Honesty. Self-awareness. Sense of purpose. Writing ability. Humor when appropriate. Individuality.

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Boston, MA: I am a journalism major, but am very interested in photojournalism. Is it possible to apply to intern at the news reporting desk and the photo desk at the same time? Also, do I have a chance at being accepted into the internship even though I have not had any work published? Thank you!

Leonard Downie Jr.: I can't imagine selecting an intern who has not had work published because it would be so difficult to evaluate such a candidate. We have not had interns who worked on both news desks and the photo desk.

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Arlington, Va.: While I do not have any college newspaper experience, I've taken newswriting classes and am interested in pursuing writing in the music industry, or more of a column-style of writing rather than news and reporting. I know I have the writing skills--is there room at the post for such an intern?

Also, is there any type of stipend? In this day in age, most if not all companies rely on unpaid interns, but that weeds applicants like myself out who A. have graduated from college and B. do not come from enough of a privileged background to work for free.

Thanks!

Leonard Downie Jr.: All of our summer interns are paid salaries. A couple dozen are selected from hundreds of applicants each year, so the competition is stiff. We want applicants who are committed to and have experience (student and/or professional) in newspaper journalism.

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New York, NY: I run a program that trains student journalists and helps them develop professional careers. What advice do you have for me in helping them successfully apply for the internship? Would several applications from the students in my program be harmful to the best students' chances? Given that students with a real range of experiences are part of my program, what type of students do you think I should encourage to apply?

Leonard Downie Jr.: We evaluate each applicant individually so it doesn't matter how many apply from any one program or university. Our preliminary screening determines which applicants should get further consideration. Those who have done well in previous internships, demonstrating that they can work at our level, or who show unusual potential in other ways, have the best chances.

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New Brunswick, NJ: is it possible to apply to two internships?

Leonard Downie Jr.: If you mean applying to the Post and other newspapers for internships, yes.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi. I want to encourage a student photographer I know to apply to an internship at The Post. However, besides still photography, she's very interested in putting together multimedia packages. Will The Post internships provide her with this opportunity - or is she better off applying to programs at your Web site or other online venues?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Our photographers are beginning to do some video, but our web site does a lot of it. I don't know what their internship opportunities are.

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Washington, D.C.: How much do recommendations and internships within the Post - such as at washingtonpost.com or Newsweek - make a difference for a candidate?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Experience at one of our sister platforms would probably be an advantage because we could better assess potential. And recommendations from members of our staff are taken very seriously.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you ever hire interns who have previous internship experience, but not at a daily newspaper?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Very rarely. We have to be able to assess potential for working in our newspaper newsroom.

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Silver Spring, Md.: How many previous internships are you looking for the ideal intern to have?

Leonard Downie Jr.: It's not so much the number as the quality of the work produced in one or more internships.

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Foggy Bottom: Do you look at candidates differently based on if they are undergraduates, grad students, or out of school and well into a journalism career? It seems like it would be difficult for a senior in college to compete with someone who has a master's.

Leonard Downie Jr.: Most of our recent interns had completed either their junior or senior years in college, although we've also had some graduate students and master's degree recipients. We look more for quality of journalism produced by the applicants than their years of education or their degrees.

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New York, N.Y.: I have been impressed with the growth of Washington Post Radio, and wonder if you might consider offering an internship in the department this summer.

Leonard Downie Jr.: Washington Post Radio is not part of our internship program. Inquiries about it should be addressed to Tina Gulland, our director of radio and TV projects.

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Orlando, Fla.: When does the 10-week internship begin?

Leonard Downie Jr.: In June of each year. We select the interns in November. Applications close earlier in the autumn.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the newsroom atmosphere like at the Post? Is it a team environment, or cutthroat and competitive?

Leonard Downie Jr.: It's a large, competitive newsroom on two floors in our main building, plus a number of suburban news bureaus. But it is also collegial and fun. We assign each summer intern a volunteer professional partner from our staff to help guide them through the summer.

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Cary, North Carolina: I interned with Sports Illustrated this past summer in New York. My editor wrote me a recommendation letter but since he's in New York and I'm in North Carolina, trying to get my application materials and his letter in one package is troublesome. What do you recommend I do in order to get the letter to you?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Get everything to us as quickly as you can. The editor can also send the letter directly to us, properly labeled to be added to your application.

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Toronto, Canada: First of all, thanks for doing this. My question relates to the autobiography. I'd like to know what it is that makes your heads turn in terms of content and/or writing style? Also, are you the person we are sending it to? If not, who is, and if possible could you please let me know what phone number would we be able to contact them at? Thanks for your time!

Leonard Downie Jr.: A number of editors will be looking at the applications and there is no way anyone can tell you just what "will turn our heads." As I said earlier, be honest, informative and show us how you write. Good writing is not necessarily flashy.

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Chico, Calif.: It looks like The Post takes four or five copy editors, in addition to the Dow Jones program. How many people typically apply?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Several hundred or more typically apply each year for reporting, editing, photography, graphics and page design internships.

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Silver Spring, MD: After an internship at the Post where do the interns usually go? I'm graduating in May and wonder if employment at the Post is possible after graduation and the Post internship?

Leonard Downie Jr.: We usually hire several or more outstanding interns at the end of their summers here. We also recommend places for other interns to get more seasoning while we track them.

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Fairfax, VA: In applying for an internship is there any advantage to being from the Post's metro area? It seems as though being a reader of the Post and a 'local' would erase much of the learning curve other applicants would have.

Leonard Downie Jr.: We definitely want as many locally raised interns as possible, but they must be competitive in ability and experience with other applicants.

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Lebanon, NH: Is it possible to apply to two internships within The Washington Post, such as sports and metro sections? Or does The Washington Post accept only one application per person?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Only one application, but you can indicate which sections you are interested in -- and many applicants cite more than than one, such as Metro and Sports.

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Alexandria, VA: I am a journalism grad who graduated in '04. Upon returning home I took a the first job I could, which happened not to have anything to do with journalism. It helps me pay the bills, but I still want to have a career in journalism.

Are there any opportunities or internships, such as during weekends, for someone in my situation?

Also, if I don't have any professional clippings, what avenues should I pursue to get myself published so I can pursue a journalism job, or internship?

Thank you

Leonard Downie Jr.: Our only internships are the competitive summer internships we've been discussing in this chat. My advice would be to find a newspaper job anywhere you can to start and/or continue on to a graduate j-school.

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Baltimore, Md.: I imagine that landing an internship at the Post is very tough. But I also imagine that getting hired on staff is even tougher. In recent years have you hired interns into full-time positions? Can you name some examples. Thanks.

Leonard Downie Jr.: Beginning with me in 1964, we've hired scores of summer interns into full-time jobs, including an unusually large number from last summer's intern class. Just a few others of note: sports columnist Michael Wilbon, former managing editor Bob Kaiser, deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl.

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New York: How much does the academic transcript play into your decision. Can a journalist be successful without being the best student?

Leonard Downie Jr.: You can be successful without being the best student; we rely more on evidence of journalistic talent and experience. But we do notice particularly outstanding or particularly poor academic achievement. We also notice fluency in important foreign languages and academic achievement in subjects important in our coverage.

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DC: I've written a few things for the Post and my editor there has

offered to write me a letter of rec. Naturally I'd love to use

her but don't feel that she knows my writing as well as

professors who have worked more closely with me. Is it

better to use the Post editor anyway, or should I stick with

just mentioning that she encouraged me to apply?

Leonard Downie Jr.: It would be good to have letters from both the Post editor and your professors.

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Williamsburg, VA: How important is it to have experience with a daily newspaper? How recent should that experience be to be considered relevant?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Daily newspaper experience is very important. Assuming you are now or were recently a college student, I can't imagine that the experience wouldn't be recent enough.

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Alexandria, VA: Why do you have to be a junior, senior or in graduate school to apply? It seems very limiting and non-inclusive when there could be someone younger and talented or older and wanting to commit to a journalism career.

Leonard Downie Jr.: We have chosen a very few exceptional summer interns who were between their sophomore and junior years in college. And we are always open to an applicant who demonstrates extraordinary talent and already has sufficient experience at an early age.

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Washington, DC: How many gay, lesbian and transgendered interns are currently placed with your organization? If you are unable to answer that question, where do you recruit interns who might be gay, lesbian or transgendered?

Leonard Downie Jr.: We have many gay staff members and I'm sure some of our summer interns have been gay. But we do not ask them to specify their sexual orientation.

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Washington, D.C.: Is the Post internship only for members of racial and ethnic groups?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Our summer internships are open to journalists of all races and ethnic groups. We do seek diversity among our interns and the rest of our newsroom staff.

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London, UK: My understanding is that in the past, some interns have been hired on as reporters after the summer program. Will that happen this year, given the recent buyouts and downsizing in the newsroom?

Leonard Downie Jr.: We hired more of this past summer's interns into full-time jobs here than ever before.

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Lakeside, AL: I know you said you almost never take international interns, but how about the ones who are already students in colleges here in the United States and are interested in the opportunity?

Leonard Downie Jr.: We would consider all applications, keeping in mind visa issues and evidence of experience and proficiency in American-style newspaper journalism.

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Williamsburg, VA: Are most interns hired grad students, or is it just as likely to be hired as a college senior about to graduate?

Leonard Downie Jr.: The majority have been seniors who just graduated.

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Philadelphia, PA: The Intern FAQ said applicants must be enrolled in school on the application deadline. Is there any interning path for people who did not have extensive reporting experience as a student? Gain experience and apply as a graduate student? Thanks for any information.

Leonard Downie Jr.: Applicants must be currently enrolled as either undergraduate or graduate students. Some interns have been older students who went back to school after working for a few years, but that's rare.

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New Jersey: Do you look favorably upon graduate students who have several years of journalism experience, or do you prefer younger interns?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Graduate students "with several years of journalism experience" are welcome to apply; they have rarely been applicants in the past.

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Williamsburg, VA: As for letters of recommendation, what sort of people are you looking to write them? Are employers in journalism-related jobs preferred over professors?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Both professors and journalists the applicant has worked for or with are welcome.

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Washington, D.C.: What kinds of clips would you recommend including? Are editorials useful if I'm interested in the reporting internship? Should I include articles I wrote three years ago, or only my most recent work?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Your best work, although editorials are not a strong indicator of reporting ability. We separate news-gathering and editorial-writing at the Post.

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Hempstead, NY: I frequently cover cops as an intern at a daily paper that "floods the zone" of crime scenes with reporters. I often telephone the rewrite guy with color and quotes. This often means that I share a by-line with one or more reporters. Should I use these clips when applying for other internships, or should I stick with stories that I've reported and written entirely by myself?

Leonard Downie Jr.: The latter. Double-byline clips are hard for us to evaluate.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you give preference to minority candidates, all other things being equal? Also do you just consider racial minorities, or do you also look at gender, religion, orientation, location, school, etc.?

Leonard Downie Jr.: We look for diversity of all kinds, diversity that reflects the diversity of our readership.

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Washington, D.C.: Are all the interns placed in the main Post building, or are some put in the suburban bureaus?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Both. Half a dozen interns usually work in suburban bureaus.

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Silver Spring, MD: If an intern enjoys working in the features department, but also enjoys covering other topics (news, style, health, etc), where would you suggest they apply within the Post's organization?

Leonard Downie Jr.: You apply for the internship, stating which sections you would most like to work in. We take it from there.

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Evanston, Ill.: Is it true that you hire the reporting interns who have the most clips from the summer? Does it help to be more social or get more "face time" with editors? I've heard that some editors at other papers play favorites and assign more stories to certain interns, not necessarily because they are better reporters or writers. Does that happen at the Post?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Because we want the best interns and hire those interns who will be the best staff members, we treat each of them the same way. Playing favorites would be self-defeating for us. It's the quality of work rather than just the quantity that matters.

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Re: New Jersey: I understand that one of your reporters, Emily Wax, was a graduate student with a lot of experience. I love her stories by the way! (And no, I don't know her personally.) So it looks like you have made good hires from the program.

Leonard Downie Jr.: Thanks. She's another good example.

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Vineland, NJ: Outside of journalism experience, what sort of things would be impressive on a resume?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Evidence of the kind of person you are and the life experiences you've had so far.

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Leonard Downie Jr.: I seem to have answered all the questions. Thank you for your interest in our summer intern program.

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Vineland, NJ: What sort of things are you looking for in clips? What sort of hierarchy would there be for factors like research quality, multiple sources, writing quality, interesting subject, length, immediacy of deadline, etc.?

Leonard Downie Jr.: One more: we're looking for accurate, deep reporting and clear, impactful writing.

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Hyattsville, MD: I go to j-school at College Park, and I was wondering, do young interns get hired onto the Post staff? Or do they have to spend some time in other papers? Can you young writers at the Post who got hired as interns? Thanks for doing this.

Leonard Downie Jr.: Please see my earlier answers to these questions. We have have hired many staff members out of our summer intern program, including Maryland students.

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Washington, DC: How would you or the Post feel about an older (30-ish) applicant who was thinking about the program as a possible way to switch careers? Would it count for or against me that I already have my master's degree, since it seems to be mostly a student program?

Also, would having worked in politics about 8 years ago disqualify me?

Leonard Downie Jr.: You would not qualify for our intern program. And we'd be dubious about hiring someone who worked that long in politics.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello- Does one have to be a journalism grad to get an internship? I'd think the experience at the Post would be great during grad school. Would the grad program have to be in journalism?

Leonard Downie Jr.: No. Many of our interns did not study journalism either as undergraduates or graduate students, but they had impressive experience as student journalists or as summer interns elsewhere.

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Virginia: Does the Post select some candidates for interviews before making a decision?

Leonard Downie Jr.: Sometimes by phone.

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College Park, Md.: In addition to internships in Washington, I've worked for three years at a small daily in Northern Virginia. Does professional experience disqualify me from applying, or is it helpful?

Leonard Downie Jr.: If you're a current student, we'd have to see your application.

That's all for today. Thanks again.

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