Intern housing

Mar 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Preparation


Few editors are as concerned about where interns will stay as the interns are. That just makes sense. One reason is self-interest. The other is that, while the intern has no idea where he or she will stay, the editors know that all of last year’s interns stayed somewhere and things will work out. So, the help you get will not come as rapidly or as extensively as you might like. In the worst cases, there is no help. But you will find a place to live, whether your internship is in Alabama or Alaska.

There are horror stories. One person who is now an editor stayed on the back of her editor’s property in a “modernized chicken coop.” An intern at a Florida newspaper found a trailer home that had been previously occupied by a man, his dog and his dog’s fleas. Man and dog had moved out. Fleas stayed. That reporter bore fleabite scars for years. When she told her editors of her awful living conditions, they laughed. They told her she was better off than a previous intern, who had lived in his car.

It shouldn’t be this way for you. The more comfortable you are with where you live, the better you’ll work. The smart editors know this and will help you.

Here’s how to avoid roosting with chickens or bedding down with fleas.

Begin with the person who hired you. Ask:

  • Do you have information about housing?
  • Can you post a note to the staff asking whether anyone has a spare room?
  • How can I reach last year’s interns to ask where they stayed?
  • How can I reach this year’s interns to find a roommate and share housing information?

On your own:

  • Check the newspaper’s classified ads for places with monthly leases.
  • Check other papers, too. Try Craigslist.
  • Call the housing departments at local colleges and universities
  • Look for Web sites that list short-term leases in the area.

As you look, keep these things in mind:

If you’ll have no car, look for places close to work, of course, but also look for places on major bus lines running near the office. Except in cities with great public transportation, most editors are clueless about it. They all own cars, and the only way they catch a bus is if they walk against the light. They typically do not know the bus lines, how frequently the buses run or even how much the fare is. In fact, unless you are used to taking the bus yourself, this may seem unfamiliar to you, too. Relax. If you’re any kind of journalist, you can learn the bus system. Ask to talk to someone in the newspaper who takes the bus, or visit the transit system’s Web site and get some maps. Remember: Summer is the best time for bus riding in most places, as the days are longer and the temperatures kinder.

Consider having a roommate. If you want to be alone, you’ll pay for the privilege. We’re talking 10 or 12 weeks here with a person whose schedule may or may not line up with yours. Unless you’re independently wealthy, at least talk to other interns to see whether you think you’d be compatible. Do not be so tight that you book yourself into a hole that will be so unpleasant it drags down your work.

It can be a great benefit to stay with a staffer. This can give you safe, secure housing, it’s usually cheaper and you may find a mentor. However, some people who are charming in the newsroom are tyrannical on their own turf. Ask about house rules. Better yet, ask someone who has stayed with them before. Yes, ask for a reference. And don’t be bothered if they want one for you.

It is fairly standard for apartment managers to ask you to get written confirmation from the paper that verifies your employment and rate of pay. Once you find a place, ask someone at the newspaper to tell you what the area is like. Before I was coordinating Free Press internships, I spent one summer as business editor. When the intern for our department arrived for work, I asked her where she lived. She named a scary neighborhood where she had found a cheap apartment. I asked her how she liked it. She said her apartment was fine, but she had noticed inside a fast-food restaurant nearby that someone had shot the doorknob off the bathroom door. We helped her find a new place.

Think of this as a free sample. You can find more internship strategies in “Breaking In: The guide to Newspaper Internships.”

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