The global pandemic has prevented many rising journalists from landing the perfect summer internship, the dream job, or a networking opportunity. However, students from the University of Houston (UH) have found flexibility is the key to success.
The pandemic felt like an extended spring break to recent UH graduate Viridiana Fernandez, but she was not prepared for such a drastic change.
“At first, I thought the stay-at-home order was going to last two weeks and things would go back to normal. Then after that, the orders kept extending,” she said. I started to see things a little bit more serious once my graduation ceremony had canceled. That’s when everything started changing for me.”
At the start of 2020, most students did not see coronavirus as a threat toward their future. According to the Student Press Law Center, NPR, Forbes, NBC News, and CBS News all announced they would take the unprecedented step of cancelling their summer internships. So did newspapers including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and The Seattle Times.
This was a blow to UH senior Alanna Mullins.
“Since I am graduating this December, it was frustrating. I know I wouldn’t have the time to make a plan for 2021 because I would have graduated by then. So my main focus was getting a summer internship,” said Mullins.
This was good news for Mullins and other students, since several media organizations are offering remote internships and other journalism roles that are 100% home-based, according to the International Journalists’ Network’s (IJ Net) 10 internship alternatives for the COVID-19 era.
For journalism students, working remotely helps showcase their ability to produce content for a newsroom.
Maria Mendoza, a UH senior and an intern at Houston Public Media, is just one of the students who found success.
“This summer I got the opportunity to intern with Houston Public Media. I started working there in July. Usually the program would have started earlier, but with the pandemic, we started late. I feel like the reason why I landed this internship was because of the connections I made,” said Mendoza.
Speaking of connections, this is the best time to network with professionals for advice and mentorship, reforge old connections and make new ones, according to IJ Net. It’s also a great time to embrace informational interviews and schedule online catch-ups with former colleagues and sources.
Once Mullins realized that a summer internship was no longer in her plans for 2020, she did not give up. Her mother gave her the idea to reach out to local reporters for advice and to see what else they could offer. She had no idea a friendly email would turn into a seven-week mentorship program.
“I wasn’t expecting more than just some advice. Yet when I reached out to Melissa Correa from KHOU, she decided to form a mentorship group with several different reporters that I could meet with each week. I could ask them questions and they also gave me different assignments to do each week,” said Mullins.
This opportunity helped hone her networking skills and she was able to gain knowledge in the industry.
Other summer opportunities, such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) virtual convention and job fair, helped many students and recent graduates. Fernandez was one of the fortunate participants to network with several employers.
“The networking process was actually more rewarding because we were able to set times to meet online, rather than trying to catch their attention in person without any interruptions. So while connecting with those employers, they connected us with other professionals they knew based on our career interests,” said Fernandez.
Rising journalists like Fernandez, Mullins, and Mendoza do not let anything stop them. Not even a global pandemic.
“It’s not stopping me. Maybe I haven’t gotten the chance to get producing experience since everything is remote, but I’ve still got the opportunity to interview and shoot videos remotely,” says Mendoza.
When trying to find or start that perfect career Fernandez believes that one should first have patience and an open mind. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. You might not find that perfect job yet but don’t give up. Know your worth and have faith. You have the degree to land the career that you want, so you should keep fighting for it,” she says.
Communication is key. Mullins best advice is to reach out to professionals in the field, get advice, and get your name recognized. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you admire in the media because the worst thing that can happen is them not reply to you. More than half the time they will reply to you because they were once in your shoes and you’d be surprised at how many people will be able to help you and talk to you,” she says.