Reflections on a journalism internship
Stuck at Home, But Broadening My Horizons
By Rassel Meigan Rodriguez
When I began my internship with Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) in July 2022, I was a junior journalism student with hardly any practical news experience. I was taking the majority of my classes at the University of the Philippines remotely. For two-and-a-half years, the only world I was able to see and write about—beyond the four walls of my room—was within a screen.
There were almost no opportunities for on-site coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aware of how field training is core to nurturing news skills, I was growing more and more doubtful about the development of my journalistic competencies.
These were anxieties that I and two of my course mates at the university’s College of Mass Communication, Aerielle Ulanday and J-Ann Avila, shared and discussed. When internship season arrived, by God’s mysterious leading, we found ourselves co-interns at Probe Media Foundation.
The foundation’s advocacy for media education and professional experience was a perfect fit for me, I felt. While passionate about media, I didn’t think I could keep up with the pressures of the traditional, fast-paced news media – especially given the self-doubt that was gnawing at me as I neared graduation.
I was prepared to learn a lot over the 200 hours of the internship, which is a requirement for journalism majors. I believed that it would, at the very least, pull me out of the confines of the (online) classroom, even if we were still meeting our mentors online.
What I got was much more: My horizons actually expanded through the work I did, and my perception of the news media, redefined.
At PMFI, my co-interns and I had a great variety of tasks, including attending virtual press conferences and assisting in the organization’s media fellowships and projects. For instance, we caught a glimpse of how partner NGOs receive training in communicating meaningful stories of change within their communities.
The bulk of our responsibilities, however, was with the independent news series Reporting ASEAN. We were mentored by the site’s Bangkok-based editor Ms. Johanna Son, who was quite aptly described by J-Ann as ‘very brilliant, considerate, and the best editor there is.’
Each of us collaborated and work individually on stories with vastly different topics, from politics to education to disasters, while receiving valuable guidance from both Ms. Johanna and our PMFI supervisor, Ms. Yas, who were attentive to our concerns.
Soon, I was not only involved in NGO work; I was able to face and slowly overcome my great doubts about not being up to the task of journalistic work. I realized, too, that the assignments I worked on were widening the horizons of my understanding and experience as a media student.
Horizons in journalism practice
How journalism itself is done was among the horizons that opened for me. This internship provided avenues to apply concepts we had learned from our classes and to see how stories are produced professionally—from data gathering to writing and rewriting, answering questions and editing.
“I got to find out what I’m capable of doing and what I’m not good at doing,” shared J-Ann, who did a series of stories on Siargao Island a year after Typhoon Odette. “My internship was really the time that I discovered myself as a student journalist.”
A lot of our work involved remote communications with Ms. Johanna, but our interaction with her provided a first-hand look at how the media profession persisted and survived, adapting to the challenges of the pandemic and geographical barriers.
Although online platforms can highlight limitations, these can also bridge gaps (as long as we’re also wary of digital security issues). When I reported on Philippine universities’ reopening of campuses from Metro Manila, for example, I was able to get insights from students from as far as Mindanao by online means.
Horizons in storytelling
The range of possibilities for what could be stories and how these could be told also went far beyond what was familiar territory to us as students. In our stories for Reporting ASEAN, our audience was not only Filipinos but Southeast Asians and others. Though this wasn’t what we were used to, our stories became transformed with modified perspectives, wider context, style guidelines, and enriched by various ways to build on newsworthiness.
This type of work allowed a broader view of world issues. Aerielle, who listened in during Ms. Johanna’s interview with a doctor involved in Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis, said: “If I didn’t intern for Probe, I won’t be able to get this kind of exposure to issues that aren’t just in the Philippines… [and to] what is truly happening, what struggles people face, and what we can learn from it as journalists.”
Horizons in the media’s significance
Our internship experience shaped how we now perceive the importance of media and journalism in a real-world, hands-on setting.
“Working for Probe made me realize how big of a responsibility a journalist actually has–in reality, not just theoretically,” said Aerielle, who reported on the 50th anniversary of the Marcos regime’s martial law. “Who would report the truth if not ourselves?”
Most of all, my internship made me realize that I did not have to remain boxed in by my doubts and perceived limitations. I did not have to stagnate; I could expand my horizons even within the physical constraints that the pandemic imposed on and around me.
It’s a matter of making the most of one’s opportunities to learn. I experienced a lot of firsts: being edited, seeing my byline published, even taking photographs for a story. I gained confidence, finding my passion for the environment re-ignited while writing about Filipinos’ lack of awareness on their country’s climate policies.
Looking back, PMFI provided a conducive environment for interns like us, including someone like me who was struggling with the perceived pressures of my chosen field.
“If you are someone who struggles with the fast-paced environment of journalism but you want to write stories, I think Probe Media is a good environment to honor that slow pace but without compromising learning and also producing journalistic work,” J-Ann agreed.
“If you’re really after the learning … and if you want to feel safe in your learning, go [for PMFI],” Aerielle added. “If you want the hardcore newsroom setup–if you’re ready for that–you can apply [for internship] elsewhere.”