Transcript

Post Summer Internships

Monica Hesse, Jonathan Mummolo and Ethan Robinson
Washington Post Interns
Saturday, September 8, 2007; 7:00 PM

Do you want the scoop on summer internships in The Post's newsroom? Here's your chance to chat about the program with three former interns -- Monica Hesse, a reporting intern on the Style desk, Jonathan Mummolo, a Metro reporting intern and Ethan Robinson, a copy editing intern. Details about how the 12-week program works and how to apply can be found here. But as the Nov. 1 application deadline nears, Hesse, Mummolo and Robinson were on hand to help potential applicants better understand the program, the highly competitive selection process and what it's like to work in The Post's newsroom. Please join them here Monday, Oct. 8 at at 7 p.m.

The transcript follows.

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Columbia, Mo.: In what format should copy editing clips be sent? Do they prefer headlines, before-and-afters...?

Ethan Robinson: Hi. I am a copy editing intern, but I don't know if my answer will be very helpful. The Post, on its Web site, asks for copy edited stories to be photocopied on regular pieces of printer paper (12 by whatever). But I had printing problems and ended up photocopying edited stories onto giant, newspaper-size pieces of paper. My packaged was a bit ugly. I'd suggest following the tips on the Post's Web site for how to send clips. I can't say for sure what impressed the editors, but I know I'm always most proud of good, short headlines, or stories where I make a substantial structural change that I think makes a significant improvement. The paper also has requires copy editors to take a test, which is very important.

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Coral Gables, Fla.: How did your expectations of the internship compare to the actual experience?

Jonathan Mummolo: Hi all, I'm a general assignment reporting intern on the Metro desk.

I can honestly say The Post's summer internship actually exceeded my expectations, and that was for a couple main reasons. One, I think a common assumption is that at a very large, reputable place, your chances to work on really meaningful assignments and projects will be reduced. That's really not the case. If you have good ideas, and can deliver the reporting/copy when asked, your story will run on the section front, or on A1, regardless of how long you've been at the paper.

Two, the staff here really are quite impressive. The copy editors and research staff are as good as they come, desk editors are great at hashing out ideas with and on helping you shape final drafts.

This kind of environment allows you not only to get great clips -- a goal in any reporting internship -- but to really learn and improve. I'm better now than I was in June, and that hasn't been the case for all the places I've interned at.

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New York: I'm a first-semester graduate student in NYU's Magazine Journalism program. I grew up in Montgomery County, Md., and therefore with The Post. (I also had a summer internship with washingtonpost.com as an undergraduate.) Do you have a place in your summer program for those interested in magazine writing?

Monica Hesse: As I mentioned earlier, I came to the Post with a magazine background. Style ended up being a great fit for me -- many of my stories here also could have worked in magazines. The Post does have a Sunday magazine, but summer interns aren't assigned there.

Jonathan Mummolo: I interned at Newsweek immediately prior to coming here. I had a background in daily newspaper reporting as well, but felt my mag experience helped me develop as a narrative writer and also to see stories in more of a big-picture way. So, I encourage you to apply. Good reporting is good reporting.

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Columbia, Mo.: Given that you applied for and landed internships at one of the best newspapers in America, I would not be surprised to hear that you intend to pursue careers in newspaper journalism. But is that true? Deep inside, are you hoping to jump to the magazine world? To television? Radio? The Web? Or completely outside of the journalism universe?

Ethan Robinson: I've wanted to work for a newspaper since I was a young kid, so I'm pretty certain it's where my heart is at. I originally wanted to be a reporter, but I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped. I discovered copy editing, landed a Dow Jones Internship at the Los Angeles Times last summer, and now I'm here. No complaints. I do have aspirations to create, I suppose. I'd love to publish a book of fiction at some point. But I'm certainly not "slumming" by working at a newspaper. What other outlet on a daily basis covers world news in such depth? And all we need are words, not video footage or deep-voiced DJs. (Sorry if this sounds snotty.)

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New York: Do you consider graduate student applicants with prior experience for the internship program? What kinds of experience are you looking for and not looking for? Thank you!

Monica Hesse: Everyone who gets a summer internship has some prior journalism experience -- probably with pretty rare exception. As for the grad question, both Jon and I -- as well as a few others from our intern class -- were grad students when we applied.

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Seattle: Was there a lot of mentorship during your internship experiences?

Jonathan Mummolo: In mine there definitely was, but that's also a function of how much mentoring you proactively seek out, I think. Don't be shy about asking reporters out for an after-work drink to get advice on how best to use your time here. If you're reporting on a story where another reporter has expertise, seek them out and get suggestions if possible. Also, be eager and willing to help other reporters when needed, however small the contribution. Over time, you'll develop relationships in all these ways and hopefully at least one good mentor will emerge. In my case, thankfully, there were several.

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London: I am applying from England; do you think that will work against me? Do you have any English interns at The Post at the moment?

Monica Hesse: We had one intern in our class who was from Iraq -- an international background didn't seem to harm his chances. The program is concerned with your reporting skills and whether your abilities are compatible with what they're looking for.

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St. Louis: What is it like working at the style desk? For the style desk application, did you focus more on feature clips, or did you send in a mixture, or just hard news? Will magazine experience hurt when applying?

Monica Hesse: Working for Style is more fun than a paid job warrants. I don't think that magazine experience will hurt -- in fact, when I applied for the internship I had just come from three years of working as an editor at a magazine (I was getting my masters degree part-time, which kept me eligible to apply). All of the clips I submitted happened to be feature clips, but I would suggest just sending your best clips, period, and trying to show some diversity. Style stories may have a lot of tone and, uh, style, but they still require hard reporting.

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Seattle: What kind of experience did you three have prior to the internship and, in general, what experience would you say The Post expects of its applicants?

Ethan Robinson: I'm a copy editor, and my experience was pretty standard. I majored in journalism (at the University of Montana), worked for my school paper, got a Dow Jones Copy Editing internship in summer 2006 at the Los Angeles Times, and then got hired here. I have a love of newspapers and read them with a passion.

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New York: I'm planning on applying for one of the photography internships. Do you need a previous internship at a daily newspaper for one of those positions, or is that only for editorial interns?

Jonathan Mummolo: Sorry to say, none of us are photography interns, so we don't know for sure. But I would wager that daily newspaper experience is always a plus when applying to The Post. If you like, you can e-mail one of us after the chat (e-mail addresses available on The Post's Web site) and we can put you in touch with a former photography intern who might better be able to answer.

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Salt Lake: What is the workload like for a copy-editing intern? Or a reporting intern?

Ethan Robinson: As a copy editing intern, the workload, on the daily desk, is four stories on a busy night, opposed to about 15 stories a night at my campus paper. Every fact that can be verified must be. And then stories are proofed on the page. Changes made. More proofing.

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Houston: Do interns get paid? Is it enough to live on in Washington?

Monica Hesse: Interns do get paid -- last summer reporting interns were around $875 and copy interns were around $925. Washington is an expensive city, but most interns pair up and find summer housing. Group houses are big in the District, and because it's a city of interns it's never hard to find someone looking to sublet a room for the summer. Craigslist is your friend.

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Columbia, Mo.: Do you think students coming from non-Ivy League schools are at a disadvantage for acceptance?

Jonathan Mummolo: I'm not an Ivy League graduate. (I went to NYU undergrad and then to Georgetown for an M.A.) In fact, I think there were only two or three Ivy-Leaguers in our whole intern class (out of about 20 or so) and our executive editor, Len Downie -- also a former intern -- did not go to an Ivy either.

So, in short, no.

Monica Hesse: I went to Bryn Mawr and then Johns Hopkins ... so no Ivy for me, either.

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Houston: To follow up: $875 a month, or for the entire summer?

Monica Hesse: A week.

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Frederick, Md.: Do you think people there treat you differently (worse, better?) because you're so young? Is there an attitude? If so, how do you deal with it?

Jonathan Mummolo: Great question. I'm having a hard time remembering being treated badly in any way as a result of my age (I'm 24, by the way). If anything, most of the reporters here are eager to help newbies, since a large percentage of them were once interns as well. Also, we come in handy during the summer covering for reporters on vacation, chasing breaking news, working holidays, etc., so the newsroom will be happy to see you if and when you arrive. It's very meritocratic here. Be eager, do good work and you'll be treated as one of the gang.

Monica Hesse: I agree with Jon. I don't think I ever felt like I was an "intern" here. After your first week of orientation, you're dropped in the newsroom and treated as a regular staff member. Except that staff members don't get free lunches on Wednesdays.

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Denver: What made you decide to stay at The Post after your internships?

Monica Hesse: I can't imagine being offered a job and not deciding to stay. I think for a lot of us, this internship was one of the more rewarding experiences of our lives. You work with insanely smart and talented people, you write about insanely important and interesting topics, and you ride next to Ben Bradlee in the elevator. And you try not to get starstruck, but you kinda do, even after a few months. Then you feel like a big geek.

Jonathan Mummolo: Agreed. This place is actually worth the hype, so if you can stay -- for however long -- I say do it. There are smart people here that will make you better at your job, and that's kind of the bottom line for me.

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Columbia, Mo.: In terms of letters of recommendation, do you think it's better to have non-journalism-related references who know us really well on a personal level, or journalism references who only know us on a professional level?

Monica Hesse: Since you're going to be working with people at the Post only on a professional level, I would say you should go with the people who know your work ethic and your reporting talents ahead of people who know you're a nice person. Of course, it never hurts to be a nice person as well -- being agreeable, good-natured, and pleasant to work with will be useful if you end up getting the internship.

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New Jersey: So, who's the hottest copy editor at The Post?

Monica Hesse: Is this a friend of Ethan's?

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McLean, Va.: Have you had the opportunity to interact with any of the journalists at The Post? Especially the charismatic and funny writers like Weingarten and Achenbach. Please tell me they have been nice to you.

Jonathan Mummolo: I haven't had the pleasure of meeting those two but I can say in general, run-ins with the big shots have been really pleasant. You get a chance to meet people like Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee in the first couple weeks during intern lunches, and they are really down-to-earth (Ex: Woodward closed his lunch by saying any of us could e-mail him if we ever got stuck on a story).

In general, you interact with staffers here literally every day, and if there's someone you'd like to meet, it's really easy to shoot them a message and ask if you can walk over and say hi.

Monica Hesse: Right -- you'd have to have a desk in a broom closet NOT to interact with staffers, since they will literally become your coworkers for the summer.

I'm actually lucky enough to sit next to Joel Achenbach, who is just as funny in real life as on page. But on one of my first weeks here, he asked me to read over one of his stories (I had no useful comments). Just goes to show that even the most experienced reporters here are constantly trying to improve. So there's no shame in coming here and not knowing everything.

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Detroit: I've heard horror stories about the way interns sometimes are treated. Given that you are willing to do this chat, I assume that hasn't been the case for any of you. Are there any warning signs I should look out for?

Jonathan Mummolo: It depends on what you mean by being treated "badly." You'll definitely be asked to run all over the place on stories -- hang out in the subway at 3 a.m., go out in storms and heat waves to get reaction from locals (both of these happened) -- and sometimes what you get won't make it into a final version of a story. To me, that's not being mistreated, that's working at a newspaper, and those times when you seemingly come up empty can actually teach you a lot if you learn to look at them the right way and don't get discouraged.

But if you mean get coffee or make copies, that never happened, at least not to me. Like we said in previous answers, you're treated as staff, from pretty much day one.

As far as warning signs, use your instincts. And we have great intern coordinators you can always go to for advice and assistance if a "horror story" truly does arise.

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New York: Which reporter would you love to have a double byline with? And which reporter already has shaped your work substantially?

Monica Hesse: Every editor I've worked with has brought something new to my writing. In general reporters are assigned one editor in particular to work with, so the relationship you develop with that person will be one of your most important relationships here. Mine has been wonderful; in fact, I look back at things I wrote immediately prior to the internship and am sort of embarrassed.

Jonathan Mummolo: I agree, my immediate editor has really helped me develop as a writer and a reporter. That's kind of the luck of the draw, in terms of whether you really connect with an editor ad have a really productive relationship. I've spoken to other interns who didn't necessarily have bad editors, but just couldn't communicate well with them and therefore didn't get much out of the back-and-forth.

As far as the dream double-byline -- and this is going to sound like I'm dodging -- any byline at The Post is worth getting excited over, be it single, double, triple, etc. And as long as you still feel that way, you're working at the right place.

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Monica Hesse: Thanks for stopping by, everyone. If you think of questions later you can reach me at hessem@washpost.com. I'm always eager to talk up the Post.

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Jonathan Mummolo: Thanks for all your questions. Hope the answers were helpful and good luck on your applications. (I applied four times before getting accepted, so keep at it if it doesn't go your way!) And feel free to e-mail me as well, mummoloj@washpost.com. Cheers.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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