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June 2012

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Preparing for Their Big Breaks

Los Angeles, California
Two Missouri School of Journalism seniors, Brice Sander and Pierce Courchaine, spent their summer vacations interning in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, their peer Mila Mimica was across the country working in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Brice Sander.

Missouri School of Journalism Students Use Their Summer Vacations for Internships

By Emily Ronco
Strategic Communication Student

For three Missouri School of Journalism students, the summer of 2011 provided a valuable opportunity to intern for news organizations in Los Angeles and Atlanta. At the summer's conclusion, all three walked away from their experiences with a newfound appreciation for their education and a bright outlook for their future.

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Entertainment News in the Heart of Hollywood

Brice Sander, a radio-television journalism senior, interned at Hollywood 411, a weekly entertainment news show owned by TV Guide Network and based in Los Angeles. Originally from Texas, Sander had long felt the call to do entertainment journalism.

"E! News has always kind of been the dream job," Sander says.

Before he could land his dream job, though, Sander knew he needed a strong internship in the entertainment industry. As an avid Twitter user, he turned to the social networking site in his search for information and openings. He was already following Robin Radin's Twitter account because of her history as executive producer for E! and Entertainment Tonight, but finding a link to her personal website and contact information presented Sander with a new opportunity.

Deciding he had nothing to lose, Sander reached out to Radin and asked where she would recommend starting a summer internship search. Radin surprised him by not only responding, but also requesting a copy of his resume for review. Sander submitted a copy and then began the waiting process.

Brice Sander
Brice Sander is a senior studying radio-television journalism at Missouri. His passion for entertainment news dates back to his middle school years. Photo courtesy of Brice Sander.

The next time Sander heard from Radin was after she had been hired as the executive director at Hollywood 411. Their continued correspondence through Twitter and email, paired with Sander's demonstrated ability and passion for the industry, resulted in Radin hiring Sander as the show's first intern.

"The reason she said she took a chance on me was because I went to one of the top journalism schools," Sander says.

Once in Los Angeles, Sander worked as a production intern for Hollywood 411. The show, hosted by Chris Harrison from "The Bachelor," featured at least one live celebrity interview each week, giving Sander the opportunity to meet celebrities such as La Toya Jackson and Mark Ballas from "Dancing with the Stars." His daily tasks included logging tapes, prepping interview questions and distributing guest releases. One of Sander's most memorable guest appearances was the cast of Lifetime's "Dance Moms" because of their enthusiasm and dance recommendations to staff.

"Abby Lee Miller, the dance coach, was not there, so I just met the girls, but it was funny that they were so excited to be on TV when they have their own show," Sander says.

Beyond interacting with celebrities, Sander's internship offered him experience in navigating the fine line of speculation and fact in entertainment reporting. Seeing the way rumors are handled outside the Missouri School of Journalism proved valuable, particularly when working with colleagues who hadn't received formal journalistic training. Sander noted that without a strong news foundation and the attention of a producer, there was a greater likelihood that fact and gossip would blur together.

Dance Moms
Maria Sansone, far left, interviews the young dancers of Lifetime's "Dance Moms" on the set of Hollywood 411. The girls provided the staff with dance suggestions and demonstrated their favorite moves during their guest appearance. Photo courtesy of Brice Sander.
Brice Sander's Twitter Account
Sander's Twitter account played a significant role in his internship search by connecting him to producer Robin Radin. He uses the social media site to track and report celebrity news, particularly during award shows such as the Oscars. Image taken from https://twitter.com/#!/bricesander.

"My executive producer was very good about making sure we weren't crossing the line or anything," Sander says.

After spending a summer in Los Angeles working with the stars, Sander is confident in his decision to pursue a career in entertainment news. The internship also gave him insight into the value of his Missouri School of Journalism education and the way it's shaped his professional growth.

"It's made me appreciate the training we get here more," Sander says. "The way we learn to do things here affects our judgment out there."

Reporting in Lesser-Known Los Angeles

Los Angeles might be famous for its red carpets and glamorous celebrities, but the city's newsworthiness reaches far beyond Hollywood. The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, a publication of TRIBE Media, hired Missouri School of Journalism senior Pierce Courchaine to spend his summer reporting on local, national and international news relevant to the Jewish community.

When Courchaine began his internship, he noticed that his Missouri School of Journalism education was emphasized during introductions to Jewish Journal staff members. He also sensed that the school’s name earned him respect from his colleagues because it gave them confidence in his abilities.

"There's an expectation coming from here that is hard to live up to, but it's great," Courchaine says.

Courchaine's first assignments were short releases about multi-faith events taking place around the city. As he proved himself to his editors, though, his responsibilities expanded to include larger local and national news stories.

Pierce Courchaine
Pierce Courchaine is pursuing a strategic communication degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. Courchaine has had several internships over the course of his collegiate career, including one in Shanghai. Photo courtesy of Pierce Courchaine.

When he became more invested in the publication, Courchaine realized that one of his favorite aspects of the Jewish Journal was its progressive style of reporting and delivering news. The editors of the paper used a variety of platforms to reach readers, from traditional print to modern social media, and the staff sought ways to challenge its readers with fresh perspectives.

"It starts with the writers. They have a unique outlook that can be hard-hitting and watchdog," Courchaine says. "They weren't afraid of anything and would tackle big stories in the context of what's really important."

By the end of the summer, Courchaine's own reporting began to mirror the traits he admired in these writers. His ability to find a balance between what the public needed to hear and the information he received was strengthened through a particular story that required a great deal of research and international correspondence. His assignment was to report about a complex study on the Israeli police force in a way that would be relatable to his audience, effectively stretching his practical writing and analytical skills.

Leah Esquenazi in ICU
One of Courchaine's most memorable internship moments came from interviewing Los Angeles couple Frani and Zez Esquenazi. Their daughter, Leah, was hospitalized for a mystery illness that required round-the-clock care and extra safety precautions. Photo by Pierce Courchaine/The Jewish Journal.

Courchaine's final assignment tested his soft skills instead. He was asked to tell the story of a Jewish couple whose child was severely ill with an undiagnosed condition. He was able to interview the couple and even visit their daughter's bedside after suiting up in a protective gown and mask, an experience that helped him understand the weight of the story he was about to write. Though the situation was very emotional, Courchaine's training and experience had taught him to remain levelheaded in order to report the story in the most accurate way possible. In turn, it ensured that he was true to both his journalistic integrity and the family's struggle.

"This was not just my job. It was literally a life and death situation for this child," Courchaine says. "People needed to know their story."

Upon his return to school, Courchaine decided to switch his emphasis from magazine journalism to strategic communication. His experience in classes and internships had given him confidence in his writing, and he knew the change in focus would allow him to branch out in future plans.

"The journalism school made me a professional somewhere along the line," Courchaine says. "I have a great respect for these publications and this school, and even though I'm not successful yet, I will be because of the J-School."

Watchdog Research in Atlanta

Mila Mimica, a convergence journalism senior, was originally hired at CNN's Special Investigations and Documentaries unit to complete tedious tasks, such as transcribing tapes. She packed her bags and headed to Atlanta, determined to make her dream of working for a major network a reality.

Mila Mimica
Mila Mimica is studying convergence journalism at Missouri. Mimica's internship with CNN was influential in her decision to pursue investigative reporting after graduation. Photo courtesy of Mila Mimica.

"They told me from the beginning that if I wanted actual hands-on experience I should go intern at a local news station, but I've known for a while that I'd rather be in a network doing manual labor for a while and working my way up," Mimica says.

After a few weeks of transcribing and getting used to life in the city, Mimica began to earn the trust of her senior producers. She worked closely with them on their stories and as she grew more familiar with their projects, her supervisors grew more confident in her abilities. Mimica soon found that she was receiving new, and more exciting, responsibilities in the newsroom.

"A couple of them really learned to trust me, and towards the end I ended up doing a lot of pre-interviews for them," Mimica says.

Before she could earn their trust, though, she had to earn her way into the program. Mimica started applying for internships early in the fall of her junior year and was admitted to several. Instead of accepting, though, she decided to hold out for one that really piqued her interest.

It wasn't until May that the CNN opportunity became available through an email from the news director of KOMU-TV. Mimica liked that it was with a major network and, deciding to take a risk, submitted her application. Once she applied online, Mimica emailed the CNN coordinator to notify her of the submission and soon after received a phone call to discuss the position.

The three rounds of phone interviews that followed took several weeks to complete. Mimica was asked about CNN as a whole and what she thought of its previous documentaries, but it was the last two interviews with senior producer and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Polk that made her most nervous.

CNN World Headquarters
Mimica spent her summer interning at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Mila Mimica.

"He's a genius, and it was literally the most intimidating two- or three-hour all-together interview that I had with him," Mimica says. "It was a lot of Q-and-A and, 'say whatever you want, but have the facts to back up what you're saying.'"

During her introductions in the newsroom, Mimica found that the Missouri School of Journalism's name and reputation were well-known by her colleagues. It wasn't the only name that struck a chord with fellow journalists, though. A graduate of Northwestern University's journalism school worked alongside Mimica, and the two struck up a playful joke about their schools' merits and competition.

"People would just assume that because of the Missouri title I was good at journalism," Mimica says. "It was also kind of fun because there's this huge fight about which school is better."

In addition to the Northwestern student, Mimica worked with two other interns in the department. She admits to feeling a need to distinguish herself from the other interns.

"I kind of wanted to push myself every day to do more and to step up and be okay with doing whatever it is that they needed," Mimica says.

One of the major stories that Mimica had a chance to research involved the illegal transport of weapons across the Mexican border. This required that she get indictments and request legal documents for the first time, a skill that she believes will hold value down the road.

When Mimica returned to class after working with CNN, she could see the ways her internship had already started shaping her school year. The exposure to investigative stories and research made her realize that she wants to pursue a career in the same field.

To prepare for the future, Mimica tailored her senior classes and experiences to fit her new direction. Thanks to the combination of her education and internship, she has very little apprehension about life after graduation.

"With having that internship, I'm pretty confident in knowing that I have people who will back me up, whether it's working for them or them recommending me to somebody else," Mimica says.

Emily Ronco Emily Ronco is a senior studying strategic communication and English at the University of Missouri. She worked at a nonprofit organization in Colorado for three summers and will return there after graduation. Ronco also has experience working as the publicity intern for the University of Missouri Press. From Lee's Summit, Mo., she plans to pursue a career in public relations for nonprofit organizations.


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The J-School Magazine  |  Copyright © June 2012  |  Contact the School
 
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Revised: June 1, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri  |  Contact the J-School