Students embrace MMJC summer internships shift

Special to Western News

Faculty and staff of the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication (MMJC) program developed an entirely new internal summer internship program for students as the COVID-19 pandemic started canceling or postponing external opportunities.

One by one, summer internships began to fall through. But rather than throw up their hands in frustration or throw out the vaunted finale of the program, faculty and staff of the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication (MMJC) program created a new model that will help students and serve the community.

“The internship is such a critical part of our program,” said professor Jeremy Copeland, chair of the MMJC program. “Not only do students gain valuable working experience and bring fresh energy to workplaces, they also make connections that often lead to longer-term jobs.”

Ordinarily, students head out to newsrooms and agencies for about 10 weeks, starting in May. But when employers cancelled or deferred those postings in fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear traditional work placements wouldn’t be available for all students.

“We jumped on it pretty quickly,” Copeland said.

Starting in June, one group of students will run a digital news publication and work a range of duties as multi-media journalists, managing editors, copy editors and web designers, all working to deadline.

“It’ll be run as a newsroom. Students will be expected to work 35 hours a week and they will be pumping out stories,” Copeland said.

Other students will launch a communications agency offering support to a variety of area non-profit groups. They will design and implement projects based on clients’ needs.

“The idea is that this is pay-what-you-can. If they can’t – and a lot of these organizations don’t have a lot of money to start with – that’s OK, too,” Copeland said.

The internships will be led by two soon-to-be-hired instructors. “We’ve had terrific support from the associate dean and the dean,” Copeland noted.

Many students will begin their planned internships at some point during the summer or fall and will then have even more skills to offer their workplace.

While students were initially saddened by the loss or postponement of workplace internships, they’ve embraced the new plan, said Carla Rawson, president of the MMJC Student Council.

“We’re lucky that this will still come to fruition,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity. We’ll learn a lot, as well as give back to the community. It’s a good substitute, considering everything that’s happening right now.”

Rawson was looking forward to a summer internship as a CBC Sports associate digital producer and working on Olympic Games coverage. The Olympics were postponed a year; the internship was also deferred (although she hopes that opportunity might be available to her this fall instead).

Only a handful of her classmates’ internships remained intact and ready to start in May.

This plan will help students work with professionals in the field, while doing good, she said. “As storytellers, it’s our job to tell the stories of the community.”

Communications students usually do some project work with non-profits in London, but this will allow for deeper connections, Rawson said. “It will be nice to develop a more intimate relationship with non-profit organizations and be able to help on a more complete scale. Instead of doing one video, for instance, we can do a campaign.”

Copeland said students will miss some of the workplace leadership and professional connections they might have had in the field. But media organizations and agencies have already stepped up to offer virtual mentorship.

Students will also be able to expand their skill set as they become managers and project-generators.

“The ideal scenario is going out and having a great experience in a newsroom or communications agency,” he said. “But how do you create something out of this crummy situation? How do you make lemonade out of lemons? There will be parts of this that will be better than what they would have had.”