Sincerely, Leaders of Color: Help Your BIPOC Interns Succeed
Supporting young journalists of color at the beginning of their careers is crucial to retaining them throughout the industry.
About this series: Sincerely, Leaders of Color is written for everyone in the journalism industry who cares about creating a more supportive environment for journalists of color to do their best work. Have a question for the team? Drop it here and watch for it in a future column.
It’s that exciting time of the year — the arrival of the interns. Your interns have worked very hard to make themselves available for those precious slots in the summer, spring and fall.
Internships — especially paid ones — are vital for college journalism students. There are those who can get into journalism without them, but those who have internships tend to be more successful. Why? They’re getting real-world work experience and building the networks that will sustain them for the rest of their careers.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) studied the internship experiences of nearly 4,000 seniors who graduated in May 2019. Hispanic and Latino students were more likely than any other racial group to have had no internship by graduation, the release said.
A good internship experience can be the difference between BIPOC journalists staying in the business or having to look for jobs in other industries, which is bad for newsrooms. Managers need BIPOC journalists to help them reach communities that have been historically underrepresented. This is important, as the United States continues to move toward becoming a majority minority country.
So the next natural question is: What are you, as a newsroom manager, going to do to ensure the success of your BIPOC interns? Because they will encounter the same challenges faced by any current BIPOC journalists in your newsroom — and throughout their career. Those same challenges could drive out new interns of color who are badly needed to ensure diversity and inclusion.
“The thin ranks of people of color in American newsrooms have often meant us-and-them reporting, where everyone from architecture critics to real estate writers, from entertainment reporters to sports anchors, talk about the world as if the people listening or reading their work are exclusively white,” journalist Soledad O’Brien wrote in a July 4, 2020, New York Times opinion piece.
Here are some ways to ensure that your BIPOC interns have a good experience:
- Use your privilege for good. Point out microaggressions, offensive language and discriminatory behavior against BIPOC interns in your newsroom. Amplify their voices in the newsroom.
- Impose a zero tolerance policy. If BIPOC interns come to you with complaints of toxic behavior or racial bias, take it seriously — and fix it.
- Don’t burden your BIPOC staff. If they want to help guide and mentor BIPOC interns, let them — but don’t put the onus on them. Ask everyone in your newsroom to step up when it comes to BIPOC interns.
- Have an open mind. Encourage BIPOC interns who want to bring their lived experiences to stories and sources.
- Share the glory. If a BIPOC intern helped work on a story through research, sourcing, writing or fact-checking, give them credit at the bottom of a story and offer praise in the newsroom.
- Think about assignments. Don’t impose emotional labor or historically gendered tasks on interns. For example, interns are not here to get you coffee, take notes, or set up your Zoom.
- Educate yourself and your newsroom. It’s not the job of BIPOC interns and editorial staff to explain nuances in the communities you serve.
- Give BIPOC interns outside support. Pay for them to join organizations including AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA and SAJA, and encourage them to attend local chapter events.
- Be an ally. Mentor and sponsor BIPOC interns, even after they leave. Use your network to keep them in mind for future jobs and other journalism-related opportunities.
It’s much easier to hire and work with interns that look like you. Step outside of your comfort zone and bring fresh new voices into your newsroom by hiring more BIPOC interns. Do this by expanding your hiring circle and networking with journalists of color organizations, HBCUs and HACUs (Google them) and nonprofits such as the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education to help.
I’ll end by throwing out one more mention of color: green. I’ll use my own beat, travel, as an example. A 2020 report by the Black Travel Alliance found that Black folks in the U.S. spent $109.4 billion on travel in 2019. Looking at the bigger picture, a 2018 study by Nielsen found that African Americans spent $1.2 trillion a year on top brands.
That’s a lot of money to leave on the table, and my own newsroom is pivoting in different ways to target that spending. Having diverse newsrooms on all levels helps keep the bottom line healthy. So it only makes good sense to hire and nurture BIPOC interns in your newsroom.
Your Burning Questions
I live in a part of the country — and in a city — that has a bad reputation for being quite unwelcoming to people of color, especially Black people. This makes recruiting very difficult. Any advice on how to address that in the recruiting process?
The whisper network is real, so there’s no getting around that bad reputation. But it’s not impossible to overcome. Promise to offer resources if there are any potential issues they face in the newsroom. Fight to pay them competitive salaries. Allow them chances to write the stories they want in the communities they want to cover. Give them paid time off for professional development. Help them apply for fellowship and training opportunities. If you have a prominent journalist in your newsroom, offer them up as a potential mentor or sponsor. Make room in the budget to fund attendance at annual journalists of color conferences. Pay for JOC national yearly dues and encourage them to attend local events. Doing this can make a job in a place with a bad reputation more attractive and palatable for journalists of color.
Senior Credit Cards Editor for The Points Guy
Benét J. Wilson is the Senior Credit Cards Editor and a travel/aviation writer for The Points Guy. She is a strong advocate for media diversity, mentoring and career navigation. She has moderated workshops and webinars on topics including digital journalism, branding and social media. She graduated from American University in Washington, D.C., with a B.A. in broadcast journalism. She resides in Baltimore, Md.