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How to host an intern: Advice from nonprofit news leaders

A screenshot of The Texas Tribune’s fellows orientation in June 2020

By: Vignesh Ramachandran and Emily Roseman for the Institute for Nonprofit News


Journalism internships are notorious for enabling the whiter and wealthier to climb a career ladder, leaving people of color and others from less-privileged backgrounds disadvantaged. Some journalism students are encouraged to take on unpaid work, leaving students who can’t afford to work for free with less “experience” to list on a resume. 

These days, many leaders at nonprofit news organizations have demonstrated a commitment to providing better internship experiences for rising journalism professionals around the country. The Institute for Nonprofit News reached out to a handful of our members to learn what they’re doing to turn internship programs into positive and equitable accelerators. 

Below, we list eight key pieces of advice to consider when hosting an intern. 

1. Pay interns a fair wage.

Above all, pay your interns for their work. Know your state’s minimum wage, and treat this benchmark as the floor, not the ceiling. If you can’t afford to pay your interns for full-time, 40 hours/week of work, consider structuring internships as paid, part-time commitments (part-time each day, or two to three days per week) that enable your interns to find additional income.

TIP: Don’t have the funds to pay your interns? Consider approaching local foundations or funders to ask for support. Philanthropic groups can also take action themselves — the Lenfest Institute offers funds to help subsidize unpaid internship programs for Philadelphia-area journalists and students of color with their professional development. Affinity groups, like the Asian American Journalists Association, also offer grants for students to help supplement internship pay.

2. Commit to hiring interns that represent the community your news organization serves. Actively recruit interns who come from less privilege.

This means going beyond posting your internship opportunities on job boards and tapping the usual networks. Instead, it means actively looking for journalists and journalists-to-be outside the world of prestigious, four-year universities.

3. Craft clear and inclusive job descriptions.

Job descriptions are important. If your job description is too specific in the qualifications and skills you require, it could dissuade potentially qualified applicants who just aren’t familiar with journalism terminology. Instead, consider what are the truly essential skills and needs of your organization. Above all, focus on communicating your organization’s values in your job description. 

Tip: OpenNews’ DEI Coalition for Anti-Racist, Equitable and Just Newsrooms has member-only resources that provide tips on inclusive job descriptions, recruiting and interviewing.

4. Know this: Interns should get more value out of the internship than you do.

This is a big one, and might require a mindset shift. Interns are not cheap labor. Interns may be more costly for your news organization up front, given the amount of time, mentorship and coaching they will need to grow while under your care.

Tip: Consider what support people of color will need when operating in your news organization’s culture, especially if your news outlet’s leadership is mostly white and/or your news outlet operates in a predominantly white area. Management consultant Kim-Monique Johnson advocates for managers to start by rethinking even calling their own roles “supervisors” or any other label that’s rooted in racism and the replication of harmful work norms. Johnson advocates for using the pandemic as a transition toward a new normal in work cultures that are more humane and active in “lifting up the power and promise of marginalized groups.”

5. During onboarding, define clear working norms.

Your internship program might be the first time your intern is using email, Slack and other tools in professional settings. Make sure you communicate to your intern(s) how and when you expect them to use these tools and platforms throughout their time working at your news organization.

TIP: For your editorially focused interns, consider the things specific to your outlet that they should know. This includes the threshold for when your outlet tends to cover a topic or story vs not, and whether and when you expect your intern to help with breaking news. Also, help your interns understand how your outlet manages relationships with sources (and how interns should introduce themselves and explain their role before an interview). Finally, be sure to clearly define how interns can prepare for a fact-checking process, such as keeping fact-checks linked in their drafts, and keeping interview transcripts accessible for editors.

6. Don’t forget about your intern.

Throughout the program, it is your responsibility to manage, mentor and check-in with your intern. Schedule regular check-ins!

Use this resource: Corrie MacLaggan, The Texas Tribune’s former managing editor, compiled this Tip sheet on how to be a great mentor, including advice and tips from Whitnie Narcisse of First Round Capital, Amy Kovac-Ashley of the American Press Institute and the participants of the Online News Association Journalism Mentorship Collaborative.

A slide out of The Texas Tribune’s “How to be a great mentor” presentation, made by Corrie MacLaggen and presented to the outlet’s assigned mentors before they meet fellows.

7. Collect and incorporate feedback on your internship program.

After the internship ends, ask your intern(s) for their feedback on how your outlet can improve the internship experience. Ideally, allow for anonymity.

8. Be proactive in helping your intern navigate the post-internship landscape.

If you can’t hire your intern full-time, get involved in their job-hunting process. Transition from mentor to advocate. Help write recommendation letters and serve as a reference. Use your own networks to make introductions at other news organizations and get their resume noticed.


A positive internship program involves investment in staff time, organization budget and a genuine desire to mentor the next generation of journalists, publishers and news outlet leaders. 

As the journalism industry grapples with diversity, equity and inclusion, developing or improving your internship program can help foster a diverse pipeline of young, vibrant talent that will become our country’s top journalism leaders for decades to come. 

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