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Bethel Student Journalists Hit the Ground Running

Paid internships, sponsored by the Johnson Center for Journalism and Communication, give students a variety of impressive professional experiences.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist

July 03, 2019 | 10:30 a.m.

Paid internships, sponsored by the Johnson Center for Journalism, give students a variety of impressive professional experiences.

Conrad Engstrom ’19, Maddie Christy ’20, and Jasmine Johnson ’20 have all done paid internships through Bethel’s Johnson Center for Journalism

Pop into the Clarion student newspaper office on any given afternoon, and you’ll find student journalists finalizing page layouts, perfecting ledes, or connecting with last-minute sources before deadline. Begin asking questions, and you’ll often hear about those same students’ off-campus internships, where they’re simultaneously building skills that immediately improve their newspaper and set them up for success after graduation. 

In 2018, Bethel had students interning at the Pioneer Press, Southwest News Media (Shakopee Valley News, Chaska Herald), Press Publications (White Bear News), North News, and at the nonprofit ECHO and Naples Daily News in Florida. This summer, students are back at the Pioneer Press, Southwest News Media, ECHO, and Press Publicationsand also ABC/Sun Newspapers (Anoka County UnionHerald, Stillwater Gazette, Union Times). 

The students often had to beat out many non-Bethel students to land the competitive positions, but they had a benefit the others didn’t: a full paycheck. Many journalism internships provide college credit only, or a meager stipend, so Gene and Kathy Johnsonthe benefactors behind the Johnson Center for Journalism and Communicationhave set up a fund to make sure finances aren’t standing in the way of students completing valuable internships. Some of the positions are co-funded, with the employer paying something and the Johnsons stepping in with additional funds. 

“The reporting and writing skills that our students have learned from these internship experiences have proved valuable,” says Associate Professor of Journalism Yu-li Chang Zacher. “Many of these students have taken on leadership roles at the Clarion. The professionalism that they have displayed after the internships has made me and the department proud. We have seen our recent graduates getting jobs at local TV stations in Duluth and Rochester and at local papers such as Shakopee Valley News and Brainerd Dispatch.”

We chatted with three students who’ve recently completed internships through this innovative initiative: 

Conrad Engstrom '19 
Major: Journalism 
Minor: Biblical & Theological Studies

Engstrom started his 15 hour/week position with Press Publications in spring 2018, working around his varsity basketball schedule. 

“I went in feet-first,” he recalls, describing how he coordinated sports content but was soon writing for seven different papers, far more than he expected. “I thought, ‘the more clips I can get, the better!'”

His first assignment was to interview a local couple who adopted their grandchildren in the wake of their son-in-law dying in the Las Vegas shooting. After an emotional hour-long interview, Engstrom was amazed at the story he was able to develop after very little prior newspaper experience. 

“Dang,” he remembers thinking. “Maybe I was more prepared than I thought! From there, any little thing they gave me, I’d pick up the phone and call and just try to work with it.” He asked around for leads. He was an ad hoc photographer for last-minute events. He traveled when needed. He attended City Council meetings. And by his third week on the job, he had stories in four local weekly papers. 

“I came in very timid about whether or not I even wanted to do journalism. I was kind of in a junior year crisis, where it was too late to turn back, but I was not sure about this,” says Engstrom, who graduated in May and has begun a job as the sports reporter for the Brainerd Dispatch. “The internship was awesome. It was rewarding. Gene Johnson, and his son Carter, could not have been more encouraging."

You don’t know how well your professors are teaching until you get out there, in the real world, and hear you’re doing good work. One editor told me I was the best intern they’d ever had. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I won’t be scared if it’s journalism! 

— Conrad Engstrom ’19 

Jasmine Johnson ’20
Major: Journalism

Johnson completed a 5-week summer 2018 internship at ECHO, a Fort Meyers, Florida-based nonprofit that develops partnerships to equip undernourished people with agricultural resources and skills. She found that, by the time she began the position, Bethel had already given her a solid foundation in journalistic skills. 

“I knew how to interview people, how to take photos,” she says. She was based in an office weekdays, but would regularly spend time on the organization’s 50-acre farm, interviewing on-site staff or Skyping with field partners and clients around the world. From those interactions, she developed a handful of print stories for the quarterly ECHO magazine, as well as weekly, personal blog posts. Though the skills weren’t all that different from those she had developed through the Clarion, she says the experience of working so closely with one global organization broadened her perspective on what was possible within the world of journalism.

“These stories are making a difference. Someone’s life is changing because of my writing...I haven’t experienced that anywhere else,” she remembers thinking. She learned about the internal communications side of the organization, writing about donors and partner organizations who were investing in ECHO. The stories were meant to expand the reach of the organization and inspire other potential supporters and volunteers. And even that work, she realized, could have deep meaning. “I realized I just want to be somewhere that matters, doing work that makes a difference to real people.”

This summer, Johnson is working at the Pioneer Press through another Johnson Center-sponsored internship, and will take on the role of managing editor with the Clarion this fall. She hopes these different experiences will help solidify her career path after Bethel. 

“ECHO gave me a better idea of what I’m looking for,” she says. “But I’ve realized we’re all working toward the same goal: not just telling stories to tell stories, but having a deeper meaning and purpose in people’s lives. I’m really excited for what’s possible with that.”

Maddie Christy ’20
Majors: Journalism and Missional Ministries

Also at ECHO, Christy fell in love with the hands-on nature of the organization. The “global demonstration farm,” in particular, allows staff to develop and perfect new agricultural techniques that can be brought overseas to help populations farm more sustainably. As she and Johnson developed stories, they were able to take ideas and run with them, carrying them through the entire creative process, editing, and publication in a variety of media. While they certainly honed their hard skills, Christy was most impacted by something else entirely: the community she had become a part of. 

“I didn’t necessarily go there and get super good at writing or learn a ton of new stuff about journalism. It was definitely public relations. But I learned so much about missions and community and ways to live that involve the Lord’s work in the world, even if it’s not in the mission field in Africa. It broadened my perspective on all the organizations out there that exist and opportunities to combine writing and ministry/missions, my two passions.” 

One day, she experienced a “day in the life” of an agricultural intern. She got up with them at 6 a.m., did farm work, and went to meetings and seminars. She developed a story for the blog, bringing a “face” to the internship program, a driving force behind the success of on-site farm operations. “We were mulching, digging up trees. I found, like 17 coconuts that day! And they felt so honored that someone would give a voice to their experience,” Christy says. “And I realized, after sitting in the office some days, that I really appreciated being out and actually doing things, not just writing about them.” 

This summer, she’s working in a Christian hostel in Amsterdam and blogging about her experience. In fall, she'll be a resident assistant in Bodien Hall, a teaching assistant, and leader of a mission trip. And though she’s not totally sure what will come after graduation, she hopes to explore paths that bring together journalism and missions in a concrete way.

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