The bustling Houston Chronicle newsroom has become a real world classroom for a select group of University of Houston students.
Aspiring journalists from UH's Jack J. Valenti School of Communication are participating in a new internship program at Texas' largest newspaper. These students earn academic credit, as well as invaluable experience by working alongside the newspaper's veteran editors and reporters.
The program kicked off in fall 2010 and accepts students following an application process and portfolio review. This semester, 15 students (12 from UH and three from UH Clear Lake) are participating in the program. They work 16 - 20 hours a week at the Chronicle and will earn three hours of credit at the end of the semester.
Students agree that the program offers them a golden opportunity, but it requires commitment and hard work.
"This program helps you understand the pressure of working in a newspaper environment," said Sara Nichols, a former intern who graduated in fall 2010. "When you're in the newsroom and a deadline arrives, there's no looking back. If you make a mistake, you can't fix it. It can be intimidating, but it's part of learning and becoming a professional."
Nichols now reports for the Chronicle's Neighborhoods section. As an intern, she worked the universal desk. Her duties included editing, putting text on pages and writing headlines and cutlines. Sharing these responsibilities last semester was senior Katie Rowald (who now works the Neighborhoods desk). She agrees that stepping into the newsroom can be daunting but that should not dissuade anyone from pursuing a Chronicle internship.
"Students shouldn't be too nervous about interning for a large newspaper like the Houston Chronicle," Rowald said. "It's completely worth doing. Many staff members have been there for years. They are great mentors, and the lessons you learn there will stick with you throughout your career. It's one of the most important things you can do as a student journalist."
In addition to lessons learned in the newsroom, interns also meet with Chronicle staff members for informal brown bag lunch chats. Speakers include Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen, investigative reporter Terri Langford, business columnist Loren Steffy and social media editor Dwight Silverman.
Also in attendance during these lunches are members of UH's JJVSoC faculty. Both Nichols and Rowald credit faculty members such as instructor David McHam and adjunct lecturer Charles Crixell (also the news editor for the Houston Chronicle) for preparing them for this experience.
The Chronicle staff also deserves thanks, said McHam. Their support and mentorship make the internship program rewarding for both the paper and the students.
"The staff at the Chronicle has been great to the students," he said. "They treat them as professionals.
The students have had an opportunity to find out what working on a major newspaper is like."
Students aren't the only ones grateful for their Houston Chronicle internships. The paper's editors appreciate the extra help and are enthusiastic about supporting a new generation of journalists.
"Everyone is a winner with this program," Cohen said. "The students get real-life exposure and mentors. The newspaper is infused with enthusiastic young voices, and the university is able to offer students an exciting opportunity that amounts to a graduate-level seminar."
Students interested in participating in the Houston Chronicle's internship program should contact McHam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photos by UH Clear Lake student and Chronicle intern Tonya Monet Torres)