By Pat Duggins, RTDNA Contributor
At a recent news industry conference, the productivity of Alabama Public Radio’s student interns raised eyebrows. They write 60% of the copy we use during the 107 minutes of newscasts we do every week. Also, the longer “public radio” news features they produce helped sweep the Alabama Associated Press College Journalism Awards for two years running.
So, here’s how we do it, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.
When I was in college, no one taught me how to write. As I moved in as Alabama Public Radio’s news director, I decided to “plant our flag” on student copy written under deadline pressure. Our student internship program with the University of Alabama treats students like a member of the news team, while understanding their limitations. We give students “advancers,” for the most part. That includes phone interviews done from our studios, so members of the APR news team are close by to help. These assignments are also made a few days in advance, so students have time to figure it out. These are mostly “third and fourth” stories in our newscasts, with APR’s professional staff doing the breaking news up front.
Students who stay with us for more than one semester get to do longer radio stories. I wrote a guide for them called “Pat’s A.B.C.’s of doing a feature.” It includes things like focus statements, building a narrative arc, thinking ahead on how to end a story, and how to collect background sound, or ambience, which makes a story memorable.
My assistant news director Stan Ingold supervises the students day-to-day, our morning host Alex AuBuchon helps with coaching, writing, and interviewing, and I do the high-end editing—especially on longer features. We’re proud of what our students do, and it beats having them sitting around or fetching coffee.
What kind of experience do you give the interns in your newsroom? Let us know in the comments below.
Pat Duggins is news director of Alabama Public Radio. His newsroom has won 64 awards for journalism excellence since his arrival, one-third of which are national and international. Pat also spent 14 years covering NASA’s Space Shuttle program for NPR, and eight years for the USA Radio News Network.