The problem with a Grocott’s internship

Some context: Grocott’s Mail is the oldest independent newspaper in South Africa, starting up in 1870. It has had some great ups and downs in its history, and is now owned by the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies, moving from its historic offices on High Street to the ground floor of the department. This can be seen in a very glass-half-full, glass-half-empty way:

Glass half full: The paper is now acting as a publication designed for giving aspiring young journalists some real-world experience, since various internships are included in the various years of study and specialisations at the school, that make students create material themselves for publishing by the Grocott’s franchise.

Glass half empty: Grocott’s is a broke, understaffed, dying publication, squatting in the journalism department’s basement, depending on the half-arsed efforts of unconcerned amateur journalists to fill its content quota and keep advertisers and publishers hanging on to an every-narrowing thread.

“Harsh!” says a friend with a concerned expression, reading this over my shoulder while I write. Let me clarify now that I do not agree entirely with either of these assessments. Grocott’s is in a space between the two, but I fear that the glass is emptying rather than filling at this point, based on the two-week part-time internship I completed there earlier this year.

The diary meetings in the mornings were a useful observation exercise into seeing how a newsroom operates. My story pitches, and those of my fellow interns, were welcomed, and some good input was given.

And that, I’m afraid to say, is where Grocott’s Mail’s claim to be assisting the growth of young journalists ends. In no way outside of meetings was I given any guidance as to how to go about doing tasks, how my products could be improved, or how they could be suited more towards the newspaper. I do fully understand that the journalism is an art taught through practice, and so mollycoddling is to be discouraged. But not even telling people how their work should be submitted at all, and giving no feedback on submitted articles, is definitely far too minimal a way of teaching.

It may also be argued that Grocott’s is a serious full-time publication that has work to do, and cannot be bogged down by having to teach itty-bitty journalists how to do the very basics. However, this goes against the entire reasoning the newspaper has given towards being bought by the School in the first place. If they want to be housed by a school of journalism and advertise themselves as a platform of learning for up-and-coming journalists, then they should be teaching their interns things, before their glass empties to the point of their existence being irrelevant.

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