SND Foundation intern learns about specialization, the South and storms

Ben Pirotte

Ben Pirotte, a University of Kansas graduate, is the recipient of the 2012 SND Foundation Internship.


Ben Pirotte is this year’s recipient of the SND Foundation Internship. This is the second year of a program that matches student candidates with publications that no longer can afford to offer paid internships for visual journalists. This is the first of an occasional series of updates on how his internship is progressing.

A few weeks have past since I first rode my bike into The Florida Times-Union newsroom in Jacksonville, Fla., as this year’s SND Foundation Internship recipient. I met Denise Reagan, the Assistant Managing Editor for Visuals (who has since left the T-U to be editor of Folio Weekly), who introduced me to a great and varied staff that I would be sharing a newsroom with for the next three months. In a display of great southern hospitality, Denise took me and my mom out to a great lunch the next day to give me a taste of what my experience here would be like.

To be honest, I had little idea what I would be doing for the T-U. My time spent on college media at the University of Kansas had been a myriad of different things — I worked as a photojournalist, a designer, design editor and then art director of The University Daily Kansan and Jayhawker Magazine. When I was told I would be working at Times-Union as a graphics intern, I had some idea of what that meant but didn’t grasp it fully. After my first week here, I learned a lot about myself and about the industry. First, I don’t have to do it all! At KU, I was laying out pages, making graphics to go with stories, commissioning illustrations and photographs and even doing some editing. But here, I have come to realize that certain departments handle certain things, and I get to focus on infographics and illustration. I appreciate the time and emphasis the T-U places on visuals, and the extra time has definitely allowed me to improve my work.

I’ve made quite a few maps, a few data-driven graphics and combinations of the two. I’ve got plans to do some logo design, illustrations, and I have a couple of long-term feature projects in the works too. A couple of favorites so far: A conglomerate graphic about the effects of Tropical Storm Debby (Downer) and a complete branding of this year’s Treasure Quest contest.

Treasure Quest Logo Draft

This is a draft of the logo for Treasure Quest 2012, a contest held by The Florida Times-Union and Jacksonville.com each year.


Every year, the T-U has a scavenger hunt that involves clues given in limericks. The readers who answer the clues are eligible for prize drawings that reflect the theme of the contest. Usually, the themes revolve around summer movies. Some past themes include “Cars 2” and “Toy Story 3.” This year’s is “Superheroes of Summer” because of movies like “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” releasing this summer. I have gone with a vintage comic-book theme, and have made the T-U’s entertainment mascot, Jack, into various superheroes. The theme will be continued throughout maps and other illustrations in print and online. I’m pretty excited about it.
Steve Wallace calendar

This is a graphic showing expenditures by Florida State College of Jacksonville President Steve Wallace over a month’s time.


This past week, I also did a graphic for an investigative piece about a local college president whose spending habits (exposed by the Times-Union) have earned him some unwanted attention. It was very cool to be part of an important story like that.

I’m already gaining valuable experience that is tangible, which is all anyone can hope for in an internship, right? And let’s be real, it’s been great to 1) have a job right out of school that is 2) in the field that I want to go into. It’s pretty great that I’m not too far from the beach as well.

Ben Pirotte after Debby

Here’s what Pirotte looked like after biking home about a mile during Tropical Storm Debby.


Although weathering my first tropical storm might have been a challenge on my bike (I decided to go carless in the most geographically spread out city in the contiguous United States), I know I will gain invaluable experience and hopefully grow immensely in all skills — including life ones.

If you are a student or a publication interested in applying for the 2013 SND Foundation Internship, SND Education Director Jennifer George-Palilonis will put out a call for applications before the SND Annual Workshop in Cleveland Watch this site for details.

The Foundation needs member support and assistance from businesses and other benefactors. You can help by donating here or contacting SND Foundation President Denise M. Reagan or SND Executive Director Stephen Komives.