Publishing Interns: The Good, The Bad, and the In-Between

2 Oct

The impetus for this post comes courtesy of Emily Harvell, a journalism student at Baylor University. Currently, as an assignment for a class she is taking from Dr. Brad Owens, she is working on a group project to put together a newsletter focusing in internship opportunities in the Waco area. Dr. Sara Stone, another journalism professor at Baylor, suggested that she talk to us about internships in general and Baylor interns in particular. As always, it was a pleasure to talk about what we do—“we” in this case meaning Todd Glasscock and I—and the real value (and pleasure) we receive from working with Baylor (and Texas State Technical College Waco) students.

What is the value of having interns?

From a purely business standpoint, interns—both editorial (Baylor) and graphics (TSTC)—allow us to complete more work than we could otherwise do with such a low direct impact to our overhead. (That is, by virtue of these being unpaid internships, we get work done cheap; on the other hand, interns are higher maintenance in terms of training and the general amounts of necessary supervision they require.) In addition, on the editorial side, you always need 2-3 sets of extra eyes to look everything over so the general quality of our work has gone up, I think, since we began using editorial interns in the fall of 2005.

I also like having the interns over here because otherwise those of us who are full-timers would be like four cats in barrel without a new group of students coming in every semester. There’s a lot to be said for the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the office . . . much less their knowledge of popular culture and the Internet that always has us learning new things.

How do internships benefit students in the long run?

In particular, it’s good for them to get practical production experience. It’s one thing to do projects in class but another thing entirely to experience the whole production cycle—and all the unexpected issues that can arise—from beginning to end. Plus, we try to make sure the interns do different kinds of work while they are here—instead of the same thing over and over—and that they have good clips and/or portfolio pieces by the time they leave.

In addition, because Todd and I were both teachers (and even though our primary concern—as it should be—is the bottom line), we want the interns to learn about the overall book publishing process. That way, they’re familiar with how things work all the way from acquisitions on the front end to sales on the back end—and everything in between—instead of just having a handle on their own small piece of work that contributes to the whole effort.

What types of qualities do you look for when choosing an intern?

Most of the interns—both editorial and graphics—come to us with pretty good skills sets. And, the things that they don’t know we can usually train them to do pretty quickly. So, in the end, absolutely the most important quality the interns can have (or develop) is to being highly reliable and dependable. Because everything they do is real production work—they’re not just shadowing people who are doing actual work—it all fits into larger overall production time frames and schedules. One piece of work being delayed can throw everything out of whack. And, to be honest, we usually cut one or two interns loose a semester; it’s not because they can’t do the work . . . it’s because we can’t count on them to do they work when they’re supposed to be doing it.

Do Baylor students stand out among candidates?

Overall, both the Baylor and TSTC interns we wind up with have worked out well for us. On the TSTC side, Tony Taylor, chair of the TSTC Waco Advertising & Design Print Technology department, culls through his students to find good graphics interns for us. As far the Baylor group goes, we’ve had good luck with just about all the interns we’ve had. (For them—because they’re on either the journalism or public relations track—much of what we do is really outside the scope of what they’re really interested in so we talk to many more students than actually wind up over here.) Especially on the editorial side, however, we could always use more good interns and will always be happy to do what we can to make their time over here as productive and useful as possible for all concerned.

Mark

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2 Responses to “Publishing Interns: The Good, The Bad, and the In-Between”

  1. tianodesign October 3, 2007 at 11:34 am #

    Well, on the one hand, I salute you for admitting that there’s a tangible benefit to your production environment for having unpaid interns as part of the operation. It’s actually refreshing to see such an admission. So often, I see postings online for publishers seeking unpaid interns that sound oblivious to the fact that there’s any benefit to their businesses whatsoever.

    Then, too, your program sounds like just the one I’d have been interested in about 30-35 years ago—whether I was the book designer/production type I am now or the English major/aspiring novelist I was then.

    I hope your interns “get” it, that they’re engaged in an experience that is worth an awful lot. It sounds like a springboard into an active and rewarding role in publishing. (And, please, teach them all: no more books where the main text faxe is sans serif!

  2. Mark Long October 4, 2007 at 10:16 am #

    Well, it would be hard to over estimate the positive impact interns have had in our office, especially the first year and a half when it was just me, a work study student worker, and a bunch of graphics interns putting our first two books together. If it hadn’t been for them and their expertise, we never would have gotten those books out on time, much less develop the track record that led to the school allocating additional resources to us.

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