2 min read

George Brock -- Internships, job applications, CVs, cover letters


  • "The more clear you are about what you're wanting to get out of an internship, the more likely it is you'll get something useful."
  • Portfolio pieces
  • Go for it, but don't be disappointed if not.
  • Contacts
  • Career navigation
  • Publication map
  • Skill tips
  • Specialist knowledge
  • Unlikely in 1-2 weeks
  • Each publication has a specific structure, and the more you can understand that, the better off you'll be and the more you'll learn
  • What is the power structure? Who decides things?
  • Who decides "when the talking stops" and what happens?
  • This can be difficult in newsrooms -- informal and formal power structures.
  • Formally the foreign editor should decide the coverage but in practice the editor might decide.
  • "Unleash your inner anthropologist."
  • Most newspapers can be divided into two categories, with sources of power in both:
  1. Input
  • How are resources allocated; what do readers want; who's going to do what?
  1. Output
  • Once that raw material has come in, what's important, what priority it's going to get, where it'll go, how it'll be changed, etc.
  • In a well-resourced and well-conducted media organization, not a single word would make it on page without going through the hands of at least 3 people.
  • Filter 1: section editor. Often no more than a glance.
  • Filter 2: night editor. Also a quick look: what a story is, what its projection possibilities are, etc.
  • Filter 3: sub editor. Trim to spec, put on page, etc.
  • Filter 4: revision editor. Review and make necessary changes
  • And on...
  • Learning who these people are and talking with them will improve your writing
  • Figure out the input side -- where are ideas decided, are there idea generation meetings, etc.?
  • Make sure you have ideas ready for forward planning meetings.
  • Study the power structures before piping up — will your input be helpful/welcomed?
  • Find out where there's a need — usually a surplus of people wanting to write and a deficit of people wanting to make others look good (i.e., editing)
  • Find sympathetic people who will let you shadow them
  • Is there a good editor who will let you look over their shoulder while doing a massive cutting job? Sometimes simply studying somebody who excels at their job is more instructive than trying to get pieces into the paper.
  • Go to conferences if possible
  • Don't disdain desks in out of the way places.
  • If you want to improve your writing, you'll get more practice and watch more editors if you go to a less prominent, less glamourous desk -- i.e., obituaries.
  • Obvious but important: read the output of the place you're working at, and especially before you even get there


  • Don't do more than 2 pages.
  • If you can't get your life in your early 20s in under 2 pages, you're not going to convince someone you're good at distilling information
  • Watch for spelling and grammar errors. Even the smallest errors will get your resume binned.
  • "It is never possible for a single individual to check their own work perfectly -- give it to somebody else."
  • "Carelessness has extremely high cost" -- your application is the first contact your organization will have with your writing.

Cover letters

  • It's a courtesy; keep it brief
  • Briefly say what sets you apart
  • Mention why you want to work at that specific paper; establish your connection to that place.

What employers look for:

  • Intellectual originality
  • Passion
  • Good degrees
  • Determination
  • Make the most of what's interesting about you
  • If you miss a graduate internship by a close distance, remember that most people who made it to the interview round still became successful journalists.
  • Finally — remember these are organizations aiming for large audiences; don't overplay blogging.
  • Show you can write stories for several hundred thousand people, not nine people. Don't confuse writing for small, friendly audiences with spotting a story interesting to massive audiences.