A recent news report by American TV station, KTVU, in which a news reader read out the purported names of the pilots responsible for a San Francisco plane crash (“Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk” and “Bang Ding Ow”) was attributed to the work of a summer intern gone rogue. But who does the buck stop with? With so much at stake, should interns be trusted with content creation?
“YES” says Jola Chudy, Group Editor at Pinpoint Media Group
“For me, being an intern proved more fruitful than all my time at university”
I always remember Robbie Williams’ 30th birthday with a smile. Sadly not because I was a guest at his celebrity-studded birthday bash, but because it was also a milestone for me, as well for the British singer, then at the zenith of his career. I was barely starting mine: a six-month student placement at the BBC in London. And my first experience of ‘flying solo’ in the workplace involved designing a logo and some title lines to accompany a programme marking that monumental occasion in pop music. I was left to it for a few days to come up with the goods. A cursory glance by the boss, and off they went to be aired later that week.
An incident such as the KTVU report raises more questions about the fact-checking protocols of a regional news network than it does about the capabilities of a clearly insane intern. It certainly shouldn’t result in all interns being relegated back to tea-making.
For me, being an intern proved more fruitful than all my time at university. In a busy workplace, the intern plays a dual role, and while I soaked up everything I could from those around me, I also helped, in my own way, to alleviate their own workloads, writing little bits and pieces that eventually made their way to press (almost entirely rewritten, with gritted teeth, by the editorial team). Subsequent internships saw me similarly left to my own devices, under one watchful eye of a department head.
I don’t remember being nannied at every stage. If you treat people like they’re idiots, they’ll invariably fulfil that expectation, but if you behave as if you expect greatness – well, you may just end up being surprised. In my role today, I’ve mentored interns who have been directly responsible for content creation such as reviews, fashion write-ups and interviews. Some of them have dropped real clangers into their work. That’s ok. It’s my job as an editor to be the final check before anything goes public, to weed out the stuff that’ll get my magazines shut down and the team carted off to Bur Dubai police station (or worse, result in an irate PR manager calling me up for a ‘chat’).
Interns need guidance, watching, but above all practice in the real world, which means being given the space to make mistakes and learn from them.There’s only so far that watching on the sidelines will get you.
I would like to know what the editor of the network was doing while those innapropriate words were making their way through to the broadcasting stage – because it clearly wasn’t mentoring or editing an intern.
“NO” says Rima Armstrong, Senior Account Manager at Ketchum Raad
“It’s almost exploitative to expect interns to create content that only requires a quick spelling and grammar check”
There’s definitely a lot to be said for diversifying an intern’s job description, beyond making cups of tea and filing. Developing talent should be at the heart of any employer’s directive, however it should be just that – development.
Whilst an intern’s input should be valued, handing over a task to them that they’re not yet experienced enough to do can lead to unfortunate consequences, as we saw with Fox affiliate, KTVU. It’s not even necessarily about the task at hand, but understanding the consequences of what may happen if anyone deems the content be offensive.
Mentoring interns to ensure they’re getting the basics right is imperative to building the foundations for a future star employee, and to protecting your business. It may well be that they find it tedious, but they’ll thank you for it in the end. Existing employees should be encouraged to share knowledge with interns and show them the ropes, not dump workload on them, and a good intern will appreciate that.
I remember the first time I had to write creative content that was going to be published, and it was nerve-wracking. Despite receiving good grades for my writing at university, I wasn’t familiar with the subject or the preferred writing style. I was lucky enough to have patient and nurturing colleagues, who taught me to walk before I hurt myself running. Piling the pressure onto interns to produce something that’s going to get them the recognition they so badly want takes time and encouragement
There’s no reason as to why you can’t involve them in the process, after all, they’re there to learn. If they felt they could comfortably develop creative content, they would be looking for a paid job rather than an internship. It’s almost exploitative to expect interns to create content that only requires a spelling and grammar check, and it also demeans paid employees – if an intern can do their job, why isn’t the entire creative team made up of interns?