Virtual internships hard but have advantages, journalism students say

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted on the delivery of internships – a crucial part of a journalism education – as universities in Australia start approving virtual work placements only, over fears of students catching COVID-19.

While there are few options at present other than working online and completing your work placement remotely journalism students say they find virtual internships interesting and would not mind doing such placements in the future.

In Melbourne, journalism students like Monica di Battista say they’re learning and doing more by working from home.

“I actually quite enjoy doing virtual internships; for me personally I find I am more productive at home at my desk so doing an internship about sports journalism is a dream for me and I love it – it allows me to feel calm and do my thing while working,” she says.

Fellow postgraduate Komal Fatima says virtual internships have enabled her to multitask and that there’s less pressure.

“I don’t mind, as it gives me more time to focus,” she says.

“There isn’t a sudden deadline or time frame which makes the environment very comfortable.”

Yuto Ito is also completing his postgraduate journalism studies during the pandemic, and says his virtual internship has given him opportunities to chat with his supervising senior journalists in other countries.

“You can work quite flexibly like adjusting shift based on your university’s schedule.”

In many fields universities are now only approving virtual internships. Photo: Lenny DiFranza (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Even though she misses being on site, for now Monica is leaning towards virtual internships which she describes as less nerve-breaking than being out in the field, which she experienced before the pandemic in non-virtual placements, and where it can be time consuming to get interviews done.

She says she feels more connected with the content that she writes and with the writers in her virtual team, and she gets feedback immediately from her team about her work.

Komal added that with no distractions a virtual internship is one of the best environments in which to work.

Yuto prefers non-virtual placements where he can be around people and learn on the spot, but he feels there are more opportunities open to him remotely.

So do they think in the future that more journalism internships will be conducted virtually?

Monica says it solely depends on the organization and the type of work in an internship, while Komal wished for more virtual internship opportunities.

“I hope so, it’s actually a great learning process and it helps identify your potential,” she says.

Yuto thinks virtual journalism internships are going to remain a fixture of media education.

“There are advantages both to students and companies,” he says.

But these types of placements also have disadvantages.

“The biggest problem I’ve faced is the internet dropping in and out and the website being overloaded with content all at once,” Monica says.

Komal points to the challenge of consistent communication with colleagues or interviewees.

“It is a drawback if you’re checking in twice a day, however if you’ve gotten an arrangement with the supervisor checking in every 2 hours or so I don’t think that’s much of a drawback than a setback,” she says.

Yuto believes the biggest difficulty is that it is harder to build and maintain networks, which is a key aspect of journalism.

In  a virtual internship, he explains, “getting close to the other people is hard.”

“If you want to grab a coffee, you can say ‘hey do you have time after the shift?’ That’s impossible under this circumstance.”