Internship season is right around the corner. Read on to get some great tips from an industry professional. Ed chats with Associate Features Editor Sarah Bruning at Time Out New York about what makes an intern stand out and her position at a weekly magazine.
1. Can you take us through a typical work day at Time Out?
Part of the fun of working at a weekly is that while we have consistent deadlines every week, the individual days vary depending on the issue. Since we close features on Wednesdays, Thursdays are essentially my “Mondays.” We tackle edits to raw copy for the next issue (though we try to jump on that earlier whenever possible) and finish up any extra work for online packages pertaining to the feature we just wrapped. Over the next few days, we go through top edits, copy edits, fact-checking and galleys. I also work very closely with my interns to make sure the information in all features articles is accurate. Throughout the week, I’m involved in planning meetings for future issues, assigning upcoming stories to freelancers and interns, working on any stories I’m writing myself, and taking care of any random administrative tasks that need doing (contracts, budgets, etc.).
2. Where did you intern/work before landing your current job?
My very first publishing/magazine experience was helping launch a college magazine (Saturday Night Magazine) at the University of Southern California. A friend knew I was interested in pursuing magazines, and she brought me on to help tackle the front-of book and well. She also helped me land my first internship at Teen, which was based near Los Angeles but owned by Hearst. After college, my first full-time publishing job was as an editorial assistant at a group of New York-based travel magazines.
3. You’ve written articles on everything from food/drink to home decor to fashion, how do you come up with article ideas for different niches? Where do you gain inspiration?
I have a lot of disparate interests, so I’m always combing different blogs and magazines just because I want to know what’s going on in different spheres. When I see something that catches my eye, I’ll tear out the page or, if it’s on the web, pin it to one of my Pinterest boards. If I start to notice a pattern and I can think of a way to spin it for a section in my magazine, I’ll pitch the editor. Also, conversations with friends tend to spark a lot of ideas. Hearing other people talk about their passions and viewpoints gives me additional perspective.
4. What’s it like being an editor for a weekly publication as opposed to a monthly? What are the main differences (other than the time crunch)?
As an editor at a weekly magazine, it’s a little easier to focus on being timely and covering what’s going on right now. Sure, we work far ahead for some issues and, of course, for the Hot Seat celeb interviews, but generally, we’re working about two, maybe three months out. It’s an interesting spot to be in because we’re not necessarily keeping pace with blogs, who are publishing frequently and rapidly throughout the day, but we’re not forced to project six months or more down the road. What’s kind of funny is that the time crunch actually hasn’t been as much a factor for me. I’d been working at a place where we were doing two monthly magazines, plus a quarterly and an annual, so deadlines were pretty constant anyway.
5. Do you work with/hire interns? If so, what has frustrated you in the past about interns? What have you loved about past interns?
I hire interns for the features department (anywhere from three to five per semester). One of the things that’s been both frustrating and surprising in the past is that many interns seem to lack problem-solving skills and, sometimes, common sense. I’m absolutely more than happy to help guide interns and teach them what they don’t know about the industry, but I do expect a certain level of autonomy when it comes to digging up research and press contacts that we don’t already have. This is especially true when the task is tracking down a publicist at a larger firm or company, where much of their information (or at least a main office number) is listed on that company’s website. Or, if we have an email address, figuring out that the domain name is probably the company name, which is totally Googleable. It just seems like these would be basic skills from a reporting class—or even trying to Google-stalk a potential employer (or, let’s be honest, love interest). What I’ve loved about past interns is the flip side of this: the interns who manage to pull information from thin air without having to be asked or told. A lot of the time, it’s just them being curious and using their journalistic skills and instincts to dig until they find the information they need. I’ve also loved when interns express a genuine enthusiasm and interest for the magazine and the industry overall. I want to help everyone succeed, but the ones who are eager to learn are the ones I’m most excited about mentoring.
6. Tell us about your favorite celebrity interview and how you prevented yourself from being star-struck.
It’s a toss-up between Florence Welch and Martha Stewart. My risk isn’t usually being star-struck as much as it is just being super excited (in a really geeky way). I respect both women so much for their sheer talent and tenacity. I love Florence’s lyrics, so I was tempted to ask really geeky, specific questions about certain songs and what they mean to her. And as for Martha, well, I pretty much grew up idolizing her and cooking her recipes (thanks, Mom!), so to actually be on the phone with her was ridiculously thrilling. In both cases, though, I reeled it in by remembering that a) they’re only people at the end of the day, just like me and my friends and family; and b) as long as I’m prepared and can go with the flow of the interview while getting the info I need, then everything will be stellar.