I spent my summer as a digital design intern for The Dallas Morning News. I worked primarily on creating interactive story packages for The News’ flagship iPad app.
When I was applying for internships The News stood out because it was a digital internship and it would enable me to learn how to apply traditional design skills to a evolving medium. Even during my initial phone calls with editors they were not exactly sure what I would be doing on a day-to-day basis, but assured me that I would learn.
I can say with confidence now that even though I was surprised with the challenges that each new assignment gave me, I learned more about design and digital journalism than one blog post can say.
Here are five key takeaways from my summer internship:
Say “Yes,” to as many opportunities as possible
I can’t express how important this was for me. Whether it was being asked to make an interactive about the best cocktails in DFW, a capybara that lives in Austin, Texas or the reaction on social media to Texas Senator Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster, when I was asked to do something I said yes and found a way to get it done.
The willingness to take on assignments was something my editors commented that they appreciated. It also forced me to learn how to find the content, come up with a design concept and execute the concept often times within a few hours to keep up with the news-cycle and meet deadline.
Ask what skills you can learn or improve on
I was The News’ first digital design intern so my editors and I did a lot of learning on the fly. When Jennifer Okomoto called me to offer the internship I was still in bed waking up for my day, but I had enough sense to ask what skills and programs I should focus on learning more before my internship started.
She told me the digital team was focusing on building interactives in Adobe Muse so that would be a good place to start. So for my spring semester during my down time from being editor-in-chief of The University Daily Kansan that is what I did. It paid off. I was able to jump right in and keep up with my editors Paul O’Donnell and Will Pry.
Lessons in journalism and life will come from unexpected places
I learned so much from everyone at The News, but especially Paul and Will. Whether it was a new technique for designing page transitions or how to approach negotiating your salary at your first job. I focused on being relaxed and open-minded to the advice and wisdom that was willingly handed to interns. I am sure that I will be returning time and time again to the problem-solving skills that I learned from these wonderful people.
Learn from what other people in the industry are doing
I am constantly checking out what other organizations are doing in the digital design world. It is an ever developing field and I don’t know that any single organization comes away with a perfect-10 on every assignment, but by studying a wide range of different designers’ styles and techniques I can see trends of what is working and what isn’t quite there. Then being able to discuss what the industry is doing and get input from my editors was more educational and enriching than anything I could have gained in a classroom setting.
I also found that emailing designers and artists was another good way to learn new techniques and make a connection. Having lunch with an editorial editor at The News lead to me talking with writers and designers that I look up to in Germany. I will reiterate here: be open to help coming from unexpected places.
Be confident in yourself and what you can do
My last three weeks at The News focused on working on a webpage that will publish later this year. It is intended to house and present the paper’s coverage of the West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion. Right now, there are around 200 stories about the explosion, its effects and the response from local, state and federal officials. When I was presented with the opportunity I accepted and then proceeded to psych myself out about the enormity of the project.
It took my editor sitting me down and telling me that I wouldn’t have been given the assignment if they weren’t confident in my abilities to create something elegantly designed with a user’s experience in mind. So, after that I buckled down, took a few creative walks, drank an awful lot of coffee and got to work.
My next adventure takes me to Munich, Germany where I will be studying at Ludwig Maximilian Universität and interning at Süddeutsche Zeitung. At SZ, I will be working on the digital team creating graphics and learning firsthand about the differences of how American and German media companies treat digital storytelling.