Bjarn Eck is doing an internship for the Dutch daily newspaper called NRC Handelsblad. He writes stories for the interior affairs department and in this interview you can read all about his experiences. He gives a personal answer to what it is really like to work in the journalistic world. At the end of the interview, Bjarn offers some general tips for (IR) students that are thinking about doing an internship too.
Could you give us a short introduction of yourself?
Hi, my name is Bjarn Eck and I’m 22 years old. Currently, I am in my third year of the bachelor IRIO and would actually be writing my thesis right now, if it wasn’t for my internship. I’ve been living in Groningen as of 2016 and moved out for half a year to start an internship at the Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad, which holds its office in Amsterdam. After summer I’ll be moving back to Groningen to write my thesis for both IRIO and the Philosophy bachelor that I’m doing.
What does your current internship entail?
My internship at NRC entails writing stories for the interior affairs part of the newspaper. It is quite a dynamic editorial office since it encompasses all of the societal news (economics, politics, and media have their own editorial office) that happens within the Netherlands each day. The only thing that’s different is that we are not focused upon all of the hard news occurring every moment. There’s another “news office” that takes care of that part (the small news articles on the website), which makes it possible for us to create deeper, longer stories with more background info (yet those stories are often in relation to that hard news). Despite what people might think (and what I thought as well), you are not bounded or limited here. If you have an idea, or receive a topic idea, and create a worthy story out of it, it will be published (at least online, but often in the paper as well). That brings a lot of freedom and responsibility, which is I think the result of the fact that nearly all interns here are students of the journalism master-programme. They have already had a lot of experience with writing newspaper articles and most have had an internship at a newspaper before coming here for their second internship. For me, that’s sometimes more difficult since I don’t have that experience and am completely new to the situations that I encounter here. Fortunately, I don’t have the impression that I’m really behind on the other interns and speaking with them often shows me that they have the same concerns and questions as I do.
How did you find it?
Actually, my interest in journalism has been there for quite a while, and I started studying IRIO because I eventually wanted to end up as a journalist writing about IR topics. Last fall I enrolled in the Career Minor, which gives the opportunity of an internship as well. For me, that seemed the perfect opportunity to finally gain some real journalistic experience and get familiar with the ins and outs. I applied at NRC last summer with the articles that I had already written in the past years and was invited for a meeting. After some time, I was accepted, but I had trouble placing the internship in the Career Minor since NRC sticks to their own internship schemes quite strongly. Ultimately, I decided to postpone my bachelor thesis to do the internship from March till June. It might be strange that I don’t work at the office of foreign affairs or the editorial office of political affairs, but from what I’ve heard interns are rarely placed there. I applied for those, but now, at the end of my time here, I understand why they place interns at the interior or economics editorial offices. At these offices, there are always many topics that cannot be covered, so there are always opportunities for interns. Also, for example at the foreign office, there are experts working that covered a certain part of the world for two decades already. It’s hard to be of additional value there as an intern, also because they have correspondents that cover the regions.
What are the most important things that you learned during your time at NRC Handelsblad?
For me personally, it really is understanding what working at an office like this looks like and what it entails each day. I think that’s the most valuable experience I got out of this. On the professional level, I really learned a lot from working and discussing with some of the best writing journalists that this country has. Also doing, writing stories, getting out on the streets and interview people, going to events and making a story out of them, taught me a lot. Journalistic writing is much different from academic writing. I knew that already, but still got a lot of comments from my editors. Us academics tend to create long, confusing sentences, with a great amount of difficult vocabulary. Newspapers don’t care about that – they just want you to write actively and understandably.
Did the past few months give you an idea of where you want to work after graduating?
Honestly, it actually gave me more doubts. The internship was incredibly valuable, but I’m not sure yet whether I really want to be doing this later. What I did find out is that if I’ll be writing at an editorial office, it should be the foreign affairs one. For myself, I found out that I care too little about the developments occurring within this country, even though at many moments they are really interesting and there are great articles written about it every day.
My doubt already started long before this internship, since I’ve been seriously considering staying in the academic world and starting research. I think research is the part of the academic life that I enjoy most. Obviously, the writing component is also incorporated there. Yet, I still have to find out for myself which path that takes and if there are any possibilities.
Is there any advice that you would like to give to students who are not sure yet whether they want to do an internship?
I’m not going to advise everyone to do an internship, but as long as you specifically choose one (don’t just randomly do an internship somehow related to IRIO) it’s always a useful experience. Also, don’t grieve if it eventually does not meet your expectations. If it was a serious consideration, then it’s also useful that you know afterwards that you don’t want to be working there later. New opportunities will rise. In my situation, for example, I always thought I would need a journalism master’s degree if I wanted to end up here. I found out that’s really unnecessary, especially since I already have this internship on my resume now. That means I can still choose a master’s programme that keeps options open to both the academic world as well as the journalistic world.