Compared to being a network news anchor, most jobs suck. Think about it. . . those anchors work maybe six hours a day, spend half an hour reading something somebody else wrote, get all the credit for it, and go home more famous than most U.S. Senators. Those bastards! You should be one of those!

Whether you want to be the next Walter Cronkite, or just warp public opinion as an elite faceless member of "the media," there are a few hoops you have to jump through to start a career in the television news industry. True, working in TV news can beat working at a lot of other places; it's never dull, no two days are the same, and after two or three decades you can make some pretty good dough. But in order to land that job, you'll have to start out doing some low-paying entry-level grunt work. . . and that's if you're lucky. We're here to help.


The best way to begin your journey to the anchor desk or executive producer's chair is with an internship. Getting a first-hand peep into the guts of a newsroom can tell you whether you want to work full-time in a world where people swear at each other for no reason and never get any sleep. Just like any other field, internships let you know if this is your gig. The good news is that most television (and radio) stations around the country offer tons of internships. The bad news is that more than half of those are unpaid. The worst news is that most of them suck, because you do the things that no one else would ever do, like organizing videotapes for weeks. And weeks. And weeks. To be fair, at least you can claim experience when looking for a real job. Now, a lot of news organizations avoid the sweatshop police by doling out college credit, which is good for undergrads but tough for folks who, . . .well, . . . aren't in college. Those out of school considering a career change to broadcast journalism might want to explore a graduate program (the eager beavers reading this SYW can skip right on down to step 3).

It's not hard to locate TV news internships near you. One way is to pick up a TV Guide and write the names down of the news stations in your area. Then dial 4-1-1 and write down what they say. Complee-cated, eh? Or, you can hit for a handy master index of stations in your area. The three broadcast news networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and the three cable networks (CNN, MSNBC, and FOX) have small bureaus in major cities around the country. All of them are headquartered in New York, except for CNN, which is run out of Atlanta.

Call the newsroom, ask for the intern coordinator, and then give a brief, twelve-minute summary of your career goals. Actually, a quick name and address of the specific person who accepts intern applications will do. Newsrooms can be busy, scary places, so this initial call is not the time to spill your ambitions about how you want to give voices to the voiceless through the powerful medium of broadcast journalism. If you sense that the person is not in a hurry, maybe say who you are and where you go to school, but do not try and turn a cold call into an interview.

Get a specific name and make sure you have the correct spelling. Technical errors can kill any cover letter in any job world, (see "SYW write an impressive résumé") and "SYW write a cover letter" for proof), but in journalism they take on a special meaning. Even in television, part of your paycheck comes from spelling things correctly. Send a letter filled with spelling errors to a traditional company and they'll just think you're an idiot. Send one to a TV newsperson and they'll picture their newscast filled with butchered homonyms on the day you 'helped out' in the graphics department. Send off your stuff, and if you don't hear back in a week, then call. Journalists will respect you if you are persistent and show an ability to get people on the phone without being too annoying. That's because their jobs involve being persistent, getting people on the phone, and being particularly annoying.

Many TV news internships present opportunities to do more interesting things than the entry-level full-time staffers above you. Live television is a place where deadlines aren't flexible, so any newsroom can turn into a crisis atmosphere in a hurry. The more crises there are, the more chances you have to be a hero. Try to spot little things that need to be done and do them. If you catch a factual error in a script, say so. If you hear a phone ringing and nobody can get to it, pick it up. (And then say something into it.)

Most TV news people don't have the time to make sure their interns are getting their money's worth from an unpaid job, so the burden here is on you. If some schmuck makes you spend your semester taking out the garbage and getting him M & M's, find another producer or reporter who can give you things to do. The worst thing you can do all day at a TV internship is to sit around, say nothing, and wait for the line to appear on your résumé. If you find yourself organizing videotapes for eight hours a day for weeks and weeks, you are not getting anything out of your internship experience. Either talk to someone, or find a better internship. You're better than that.