In the summer of 2012, Leah De Graaf, now a senior in journalism and mass communication at Iowa State University, took part in ieiMedia’s Magazine Journalism course in Urbino, Italy. She produced three stories for Urbino Now, the magazine produced annually by the course. One story explored pausa, the Italian custom of taking a lengthy mid-day break. She also wrote a feature and sidebar about La Tavola Marche, a inn and cooking school run by two American ex-pats. Her feature won our best feature award for 2012.
This summer, Leah was one of 33 students chosen to take part in the ASME internship program, a prestigious opportunity for which more than 300 applied. She spent two months as an intern at Real Simple magazine, a publication of Time, Inc. Leah discovered that Real Simple is a much nicer place than magazines depicted in movies like The Devil Wears Prada, and that New York is a lot more crowded than Iowa. We checked in with her to find out what else she learned.
What was your job as an intern at Real Simple? What was a typical day like? Whom did you work with?
At Real Simple I was placed in the research department. I was working with a team of six staff researchers and one other intern. My major assignment while at the magazine was working on the Family Issue, an annual special issue. For this issue, I fact-checked three front-of-the-book articles and one food feature, and did the reporting for a sidebar of a feature story on “helicopter parents.” The rest of my free time was spent fact-checking other articles for the August, September, and October issues of the monthly print magazine. I worked on a really broad range of topics, which was one of the best parts. While we were waiting on stories to arrive on our desks, I also researched different topics for other editors and transcribed interviews. Towards the end of my time at Real Simple, I spent a few weeks in the fashion department helping the assistants check in and organize clothes for photo shoots.
On a typical day, I had a 20-30 minute commute to work on the subway. I arrived a little before 10 a.m., would check my email, and get started going through the stories on my desk. Most of the time I was checking specific names, quotes, prices, and stores against fact sheets and direct emails from PR representatives. Occasionally I got to talk to sources over phone and email to verify quotes or other questions from top editors. My supervisor would usually come say, “good morning” before 11 and talk about what copy was expected to move to research that day. Around 1 p.m. I usually took an hour lunch with other ASME interns working in the Time & Life Building.
Mondays were my favorite because I got to attend the weekly staff meeting where the deputy managing editor led us through the lineup and checked the progress of each story, with both editorial and design staff members. There were usually about 30 people from all of the different departments at these meetings.
Recently, internships have come under fire as a way to get free labor or make some unsuspecting young person handle all the grunt work. Based on your ASME intern blog post, it sounds like you had a much more rewarding experience. What made the difference?
I really think this all comes down to the leadership at Real Simple and the staff. Everyone was down-to-earth and easy to talk to. Yes, I was extremely intimidated sitting in the office of Kristin van Ogtrop, the managing editor, surrounded by not only her but the executive editor and the managing editor of RealSimple.com. It was clear by their body language how engaged they were in what I had to say, so I was more open and relaxed as a result. Kristin sat casually back in a cozy armchair, and Sarah sat with her whole body facing me on the same couch where I sat. As I told them about my experience at Real Simple, I could tell they genuinely cared about what I was saying. I wasn’t just some girl from Iowa. Of course, they were fascinated with the fact that I grew up on a hog farm.
Also, I was paid for the work I was doing. A lot of times it is the interns who are working for free that are given the grunt work the magazines don’t want to pay someone to do. Although, other interns in my same program were regularly sent on coffee runs and out on errands for editors, and they were paid the same as me. It just depends on the environment of the magazine you are working for.
What did you learn about publishing that you didn’t know before? Were there any surprises? Any disappointments?
Sooooo much! I had never been in a professional publishing setting, so most of what I learned was about the basic structure of the office and how the whole magazine production process occurs, step by step.
The greatest point reiterated by everyone we met was, it really is all about who you know. The magazine industry is a very small world, and the amount of connections between all the different publications and publishers is unbelievable. This was a surprise to me.
How has the internship affected your career plans?
I honestly didn’t have a career plan for after graduation before this summer. I just wanted to get a job, but now I definitely would love to start a career in the magazine industry after graduating. I am not sure if New York is where I will be living right out of college, but I am keeping all my options open.
Next week I begin an apprenticeship at Meredith Corporation in Des Moines. I am working for their Special Interest Media (a branch of the Better Homes and Gardens magazine) in the copy editing department. I am beyond excited to begin there and to be able to compare the two companies. It is hard to believe that I will be able to say before I graduate college that I have worked at the nation’s two largest magazine publishers.
What was it like to spend a summer in New York City after growing up in Iowa? What did you learn on a personal level?
Navigating the city wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I became very familiar with the subway system and the island by the time my summer came to an end. The only overwhelming part of the whole experience was the amount of food options. If I ate out every meal for the entire summer I doubt I would have even covered the restaurants in the Lower East Side. Of course, I would be in debt for the rest of my 20’s, as well. 😉
On a personal level, I learned that I like my space. Being surrounded by people 24/7 where ever I went put me a little on edge. It was nice to get home and finally have some peace and quiet. I will never take nature for granted again.
Did you use anything you learned in Urbino during your work at Real Simple?
In Urbino, I was really stretched to build my confidence. This summer I made an effort to have more confidence when it came to not only my work, but also talking with sources, supervisors, and co-workers. Not being afraid to ask questions, say “hello” to a co-worker at or outside the office, or speak up during a meeting are all things I worked on. I like to stay in my comfort zone and last summer more than ever pushed me out of that zone and prepared me for my time at Real Simple.
What’s your advice for getting the best out of an internship?
In order to get the best out of an internship experience you need to meet and talk with as many co-workers as possible from your office. Find out what they do, how they got there, what their advice for you is, and genuinely develop a relationship with them. Then, after you leave your internship continue to stay in contact.
Most importantly, ask a lot of questions. You are an intern, it is expected that you don’t know everything.
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by Amira Zubairi, Ryerson University, Istanbul Project 2015