Of 11 journalism students who sought work after completing internships through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism last year, eight found full-time jobs in their specialties. It’s an impressive, almost unbelievable statistic—72 percent—at a time when competition is intense among new and veteran reporters, editors and photographers applying for the narrowing number of available positions.

by Pete Peterson, Snowden Program Coordinator

Lucky breaks may have something to do with it. Or, perhaps, it was the Snowden interns’ hefty portfolios displaying impressive work samples proving they met the professional standards of some of the best community newspapers in Oregon.

Now in its 13th year, the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journaiism, made possible by the generosity of the Snowden family, coordinated by the UO School of Journalism and Communication, absorbs all administrative costs and subsidizes students’ internship stipends of more than $4,200 each. Fifty-seven students from Oregon colleges applied for the 12 intern positions available this year.

The applicants know first-rate newspaper internships can help them refine their skills for news gathering and story telling, and immerse them in real-world situations where they must follow ethical decision-making standards.

“Most editors I have spoken with want to see experience outside of journalism school, not just class work,” says Bil Morrill, who specializes in media career counseling at the UO School of Journalism and Communication.

From day one, Deeda Schroeder, one of last year’s Snowdens, made work experience part of her journalism career plan from day one. “From the moment I started working with my advisor at PSU, I started strategizing ways to produce a steady stream of paid freelance newspaper and magazine work,” she says. By the time she finished school three years later, “I could call myself a “freelance writer” with about 50 published clips to show for it,” in addition to stories form the PSU Vanguard. Then she capped-off her journalism training with a 10-week paid Snowden internship at the Tri-County News in Junction City.”

She says when she applied for a staff job at a newspaper, her portfolio proved she was ready for professional work.

“And I had editors I’d worked with for over a year, vouching for my work and ability to consistently meet the standards they set for other professional journalists.” The Daily Astorian added her to its staff even before she completed her bachelor’s degree.

Internships can also provide a showcase for students with special skills.

Journalism student Christopher Hagan (UO ‘06) studied both print and electronic media. He reported for the Oregon Daily Emerald, and also worked as a part time videographer for KVAL-TV in Eugene. As a Snowden intern with the Statesman Journal, he demonstrated the benefits of his cross training when he reported a Salem fire for the newspaper, as well as shot, edited and posted footage of the event on the newspaper’s website. The SJ hired Hagan as a reporter/video team member.

Similarly, Alex Pajunas (UO ’06) mixed reporting and photography during his Baker City Herald Snowden internship, and uses both skills in his job at the Daily Astorian.

Tristen Knight (UO ’09), who edited copy, designed pages, took photos and wrote copy as a Snowden with The Outlook in La Grande this summer, has an array of work samples to show employers.

Certainly, many newspapers these days don’t pay their interns. But, “The whole point of working so hard on an unpaid internship is to make damn sure it will be the last time you ever have to work for free,” says Joe Grimm, author of Breaking In: The JobsPage.Com Guide to Newspaper Internships.

“While the lack of a paycheck demonstrates a lower commitment on the part of the paper,” he writes, “future editors generally judge the quality of applicants’ internships by the kind of work they did rather than by whether – or how much – they were paid.”

But providing financial support to interns is part of the Snowden Foundation’s philosophy, as it is with the 10 newspapers that partnered with Snowden this summer — The Register-Guard, Herald and News, Daily Astorian, News-Review, The Outlook, News-Register, The Observer, The Bulletin, Baker City Herald, and the East Oregonian. Besides providing a rich variety of reporting experiences and individual mentoring for their interns, the newspapers paid for half the students’ weekly stipend checks, and Snowden paid half.

Snowden alumna Katie Willson (OSU ’03), now an investigative reporting fellow with The Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., wrote in this space last year that programs like Snowden are more important than ever. “We need passionate people who still believe in this craft – however it might transform – and the Snowden program and these news outlets are willing to foot the bill to give young reporters a step up.”