Stefene Russell is the Culture Editor for St. Louis Magazine and Executive Editor for At Home Magazine. She gave us some great insights and shares her tips for students wishing to pursue editorial internships.*
What makes an intern successful at St. Louis Magazine?
Mostly, just don't be afraid to ask questions and communicate. We know you are here to learn – you don't have to be perfect. If we have an accurate sense of where you are and what you're doing, we can help you be successful during your time here.
Once hired, what is the most important thing a student intern should remember to do each day?
Be on time, or let us know if you are running late. Check in with us if you're stuck. If you run into problems, don't be afraid to let us know – we can help.
What should students know about a professional work environment that they might not already know?
We get a lot of questions about what to wear. Most of us are in business casual – we dress more comfortably if we know we are going to have to do something like transcribing tape, and dress more formally if we have an out-of-the-office interview.
What are the main responsibilities of an intern at St. Louis Magazine?
This varies by department – and varies by semester. In the editorial department, interns do a number of things, from writing medical stories for our August issue (Best Doctors) to writing stories for the style department to blogging for Look-Listen, the arts blog I edit. They also do research for our staff writer, Jeannette Cooperman, and take on projects for Christy Marshall, the editor for AT HOME and St. Louis Family. We also do our best to tailor experiences to best suit the intern's background and interests, though of course there are non-negotiable tasks that must be done, but we do those as well.
What are some classic application and/or interviewing mistakes?
I'm always shocked when I get a cover letter, and it is addressed to an editor at Sauce or Alive. That happens more often than you would think. Typos and grammar mistakes are huge gaffes – if you are pitching yourself to us as a writer, it's unacceptable to have typos in your application. Yes, we all make mistakes, but your internship application is not the place to make them! Have the most OCD grammarian you know look at your cover letter, resume, and writing clips before you send them to us. With interviews – the biggest red flag is when it's clear they haven't read the magazine, and are kind of lying their way through. Even a jog through the website is better than nothing, but if you can get your hands on a copy of the magazine and really familiarize yourself with it, that's best.
How might a student intern applicant set him or herself apart from other potential intern candidates?
We weight the writing samples the most heavily, so if you have three to five excellent writing samples, that is the fastest way to catch our eye. We also try to look for people who seem like they will be a good fit – people who clearly love writing, love learning about the world and people, who are interested in long-form narrative journalism. We want to work with people who are really excited about going into the world to tell stories – not just folks who are fulfilling an internship requirement as a perfunctory thing.
What three qualities are most important for a student intern to possess?
For us – they need excellent writing and communication skills. It is helpful if they understand how to conduct an interview, how to use a press release to get more information and spin it into a story, but if the student is talented and really interested in learning, we can work with them. Mostly I think they just have to love the process of gathering information and writing stories – those people will be very happy here. We want to enable students to write and tell stories, whether it's a short little piece in style about a local designer or something longer for the blogs about Chinese language newspapers in St. Louis.
What can students expect to learn during their time as an intern at St. Louis Magazine?
How to write longer-form narrative journalism. How to find and cultivate sources for stories. How to fine-tune interviewing skills. How to track down information for a story that may seem impossible to dig up. How to use Lexus-Nexus, the Library of Congress website and other sources to find the information you need. How to fine-tune writing for the web. Also, if there's something the student is specifically interested in (like copyediting) we do try to give them tasks that might better speak to their interests. It's not always possible to completely customize that but we do try.
How heavily do you weigh sample work, online portfolios, and/or previous work experiences as you make your hiring decisions?
As I mentioned above – sample work is the most important part for us! Even personal blogs are good, because we get a better sense of their core writing voice, and get to see their work before it is run through an editing process.
What is the most important piece of advice you give a student at the beginning of an internship?
Don't be afraid to ask questions!
What is the most important piece of advice you give a student at the end of an internship?
Don't be afraid to ask for recommendation letters, or for a reference. We are happy to oblige. We wish we could hire all of our former interns, but in lieu of that we do our best to help you once you are out in the real world.
Tell us about your experience working with Webster students.
We love Webster students! They are always professional, hit the ground running, and are passionate about journalism. We have had some just fantastically talented people come through via Webster, but they are always incredibly down to earth, and not afraid of hard work. We could not be more thrilled with Webster students. They are just incredible.
*St. Louis Magazine is currently hosting Photography, Editorial, and Graphic Design interns from the Webster University School of Communications.