Britney Fitzgerald is a graduate student in the MS in Publishing program and will be graduating in the May 2012. This past semester she interned at Martha Stewart Living. Below is the final internship report she wrote for PUB 699A. Britney is also an avid blogger so check her out at http://thewhy-britfit.blogspot.com
I promptly arrived at Martha Stewart’s corporate office at 12pm on Monday afternoon, January 10th 2011 as an eager and delighted intern. After a brief tour of the 9th floor, I was sent to work on a few different tasks for the editorial department.
The space was beautiful, with multitudes of natural lighting and magazine layouts covering the walls like artwork. It was slightly odd being the only intern, since everyone else was a permanent employee working on their careers. But I liked the challenge this presented and the close contact it allowed me with the editors.
Large Mac computers were organized into rows based on department and publication, with me seated in the middle of the Martha Stewart Living section. I had a desk and a Martha mug. Excitement held my fascination for the first week as I observed the insides of a national magazine, like a fly on the wall.
It wasn’t always an easy position, and yet there were certainly gratifying moments during my semester. I even met Martha Stewart in the elevator while holding several heavy Whole Foods bags. She greeted me and I managed to mumble a “hi!” to the powerful executive and homemaker. Throughout the next several paragraphs I will explain the positive and negative aspects of my internship, divulge the information I learned, and discuss how I hope this position will benefit me in the future.
Everyday I woke up with a daunting hour and ten minute commute. Once I arrived, I would greet my boss Kristen Flanagan (an alumna of the MS in Publishing program), put away my jacket in a locker and sort/receive mail. This was usually a 10-20 minute process depending on the day of the week and who was receiving postage. Also, if the higher-level editors were taking a phone call or in a meeting, I would wait and distribute their packages later. This led to constant office-checking that sometimes lasted over an hour.
Next I would go back to Kristen and see what my major projects would be for the day. Sometimes I researched or posted blogs, which had me sitting at my desk. Other time I was pinning up storyboards, cutting out “minis” (pictures of stories to come), working for the beauty editor, or filing contracts. On the occasion, Kristen and I helped setup a baby shower, bought food for a going away party, or printed out phone contacts and ran them around the building. Obviously certain days were more enjoyable than others, but I never encountered anyone rude and found the whole process to be a lesson in learning how national magazines work.
I also had the good fortune of being part of a publication without the consequences of actual employment. By this statement, I mean that there are certain privileges associated with being everyone’s go-to girl. I had contact to upper-level editors as well as editorial assistants with little difference in treatment. I was not truly a piece of their hierarchy, yet I was not quite a visitor since my internship lasted 4 months, with me present 4 days a week. Tasks are assigned via all departments to an intern, thus if you are observant, you can see personalities and job descriptions across the board. I often knew why one editor was angry or optimistic about a story before an upper-level editor even had a chance to glance at the piece. And I could see personality and workstyle differences or friendly interactions without much involvement in the promotion/demotion cycle.
At the beginning of my time at Martha Stewart Living, I was slightly apprehensive about the position. I had been hardly introduced to anyone, and simply started working alongside two complete strangers. But this taught me my first lesson: put yourself out there. I can’t say that I completed this goal to the fullest everyday, though I certainly tried to at least have this mindset. Successful individuals surrounded me and at times, and this was intimidating to the “lowly intern.” But it helped me to remember that at one point in their careers, these editors were probably in a similar situation that I was in. In fact, after a bit of research I discovered some of my Martha co-workers had been interns within the last 3 to 4 years. Not only did this give me hope, it also reminded me that I am replaceable and unmemorable in city full of fresh-faced, driven students fighting to be the next Editor in Chiefs… unless I make myself necessary and distinctive. So I attempted this feat by knowing when to ask or not ask questions, holding my head up high even when delivering mail, not being dismissive or the center of attention, and completed tasks quickly yet thoroughly. Usually, this worked to my advantage.
My last statements lead me to another lesson: ask questions and research. People are not always going to give you complete directions and sometimes vagueness with an instruction will haunt an entire project. The first several weeks, I wrote everything down. What numbers to fill out on my pay slip, who had replaced whom in the gardening department, where the envelopes were stashed – all of these details can be difficult to remember! But if I wrote them down, I wouldn’t ask the more obnoxious questions continually. This gave me more room to ask about projects I was working on, the functions of the magazine, or even details of how editors got to their current positions. Two of my most beneficial days were when I discussed internships and goals with both the editorial assistant and the beauty editor. Why move to New York? When did you start working in magazines? How much internship experience did you acquire? But this prodding in personal life takes patience, time, and trust for both parties involved, so I waited till near the end of my experience to really dig for these answers. Besides, most people will not just tell you what you want to know, so judging the right questions to ask and the opportune moment to ask them was a huge part of this lesson.
And finally, there is one more point worth discussing: have an optimistic attitude and a goal in mind. Some days you are not going to do anything fun or glamorous. You may feel left out or put out based on experiences with certain employees. I know there were times at Martha when I thought, “Well… this mind-numbing.” But it’s part of the experience that should push you forward. If I didn’t want to be filing papers, what exactly was it that I wanted to be doing? If I didn’t want to be making photocopies, what exactly was it that I could accomplish? Setting realistic yet reach-worthy goals got me through some of the more menial duties. I wanted to leave this internship with contacts in the business, positive references, and a greater knowledge of the workings of a magazine. After all, not everyone is invited to partake in the secretive and competitive task of forming a national publication. This fact alone should keep you optimistic about your powerless but profitable position.
Besides, after an internship – partially an unpaid one – the only place you can go is up. So it is my hope that following my final summer internship at Parents Magazine, I will use what I’ve learned from both experiences to conquer some unassuming New York publication and nab the ever-persistent dream of an editorial position… aka a real job.
I’m very thankful to Martha Stewart Living for giving me the opportunity to intern and hope to cross paths with several of those employees again. My experience was priceless – and I truly value those who put effort into my training. The position was made even more enjoyable because Pace University issued me an iPad for my magazine and technology-based thesis. Throughout the Summer and Fall Semesters, I’ll be chronicling three different business models of magazines in relation to the iPad phenomenon, including Martha Stewart Living, Cosmopolitan, and TIME. Over the next several months I hope to gain additional experience through an internship with Parents Magazine, while also learning more about digital publishing through my thesis.