Schedules, days off, overtime

Mar 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Succeeding as an Intern


I can just imagine the wave of panic that flushed through one intern when the metro editor called him on a Sunday and asked whether he was coming to work.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to work. I never had a Sunday before.”

Check the schedule. Check the schedule. Check the schedule.

While you may start an internship with Monday-Friday shifts, the better you do and the longer you’re there, the more likely it is you’ll get thrown some nights and weekends.

Find out where the schedules are posted, how far in advance they go up and how susceptible they are to change. Summer internships can have funny schedules around holidays: Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and, for later internships, Labor Day.

Days off
If you need to ask for certain days off, do it as far in advance as possible. If you are given the time before the internship begins, save the e-mail and remind someone when you show up. Expect that days off will be unpaid. Permanent staffers accrue vacation days and sick days; interns do not. You might, however, ask if you can make up missed days so that you get the full experience and pay that the newspaper offered you.

Nights and weekends
Smart interns look for opportunities to work nights and weekends. These are times when staffing is short and when anyone who is available may have a crack at the big story. Sometimes, an intern winds up with a Page One story just for being the go-to person when news breaks.

An intern at the Boston Globe got the sweet assignments by going in early. He figured out that, although interns were not scheduled in until 10 a.m., some editors were in more than an hour before that and were ready to assign breaking stories. He went in early and got the choicest assignments. Some of the other interns got their ire up. They should have gotten themselves up.

Start time
Obviously, you don’t want to be late for work. It’s unprofessional. Yet so many of us schedule ourselves so tightly that we leave no room for the unexpected. What if you customarily planned to be at work 30 minutes early every day?

Workdays generally have seven and a half to eight hours of work with a break for lunch. Weeks customarily have 37.5 to 40 hours. Ask about the newspaper’s policy and how to submit for overtime. Overtime pay is typically time-and-a-half. For example, if you usually make $10 an hour and work an hour of overtime, you would be paid $15 before taxes for that hour. In a lot of newsrooms, the rule is that overtime is paid only if it is approved by a manager in advance. So, just ask, “This will take me past the end of my shift. Do you want me to work this on overtime?”

In some shops, the editors may give you “comp time” — short for compensatory time. It means paid time off later in lieu of money.

You certainly should ask for overtime if you are called in on a day off. If you are, you might be entitled for a full day of overtime pay, even
if they need you for just a few hours. The tricky part of overtime is knowing what to do on a daily basis.

For short, optional stays to “babysit” a story or artwork, people don’t customarily put in for overtime, as it has not been pre-approved and is not really necessary. Fractions of an hour are not often submitted, either. A person who turns in for 10 minutes of overtime on this day and five on that will get a reputation as a clock-watcher. So can a person who springs up at the quitting bell and dashes for the door. You want neither to work for free if you’re in a paid position nor seem to be eager to get out the door. Take your time, make sure your work is done, check out with your editors.

Overtime should show up on your paycheck as a separate line or category. Save your pay stubs from week to week so you can note changes. Ask about any changes you don’t understand.

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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