Internship Lesson #3: Picking up the dry cleaning

I don’t remember what cynical blogger said it, but I came across a comment when researching internship opportunities that said something like, “If you’ve never picked up the dry cleaning for your internship, it’s not a real internship.”

My dear readers, I am officially a real intern in this regard.*

*Two weeks ago I picked up The Chicago Reporter’s official tablecloth from the cleaners. For the record, I felt very New York-ish walking down Jackson with dry cleaning.

I looked like this, minus the dog, 16 of the shopping bags and designer outfit.

But this thought made me wonder: what’s the difference between an internship and an actual job? We all know the tell-tale “intern” who delivers the boss’ personal dry cleaning, gets coffee, picks up samples, etc. for a magazine editorial internship that was cutthroat to get and twice as hard to survive. More and more of the internships I researched back in October described themselves in ways like, “This is not a coffee-grabbing internship,” and “interns for us don’t pick up the dry cleaning.”

The Chicago Reporter was similar. Their internship page said:

Interns at the Reporter learn about investigative reporting the right way—by doing it. Their time is not wasted running errands, stuffing envelopes or doing busy work. Instead, they perform a variety of research duties: They do clip checks and search court and property records. They also learn how to get information through Freedom of Information Requests.

They didn’t lie; in fact, they cut out some of the best parts of my internship. I’ve been published in the July/August issue, contributed to a blog post, done a ton of research and data-scouring for the reporters with whom I work, conducted important interviews and am now working on the sidebar piece for the September/October issue. And only once did I once have to pick up the dry cleaning, which just so happened to be for an event I got to attend later that week. The editor who asked me said later she felt really bad for sending an intern out to do the job.

Clearly, she doesn’t work for Conde Nast.

So I ask; paycheck aside, is what I do a job or an internship? Compared to the stereotypical “intern” position that many New-York-bound college students experience, I’m a full-fledged journalist for the Reporter. Of course, this biased outlook on stereotypical, hoity-toity magazine offices comes from a short story I read called “Eloise at Conde Nast” by Sarah Geller, courtesy of “Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.”*

*(Conde Nast, if you’re reading this, I wouldn’t at all mind selling my soul to you interning for you).

To settle the argument at hand — whether I’m doing a “job” or “interning” at the Reporter — let’s turn to the expert:, the fountain of all definitions. The site defines “internship” as:

“Any official or formal program to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession.”

I expected under that definition to be a picture of the Reporter’s logo, because what I’m doing this summer is the exact definition of “internship.” I’m still learning, and the reporters and editor respect that, but I’m talking with the movers and shakers, as I wrote earlier, as well as getting some hands-on experience at a magazine that publishes zero fluff. In fact, the story I’m working on right now is a subject that doesn’t exist in most places outside of Chicago.

And all that without making a single involuntary coffee run.

Don’t cry, Starbucks Mermaid. I’m still contributing a nice little fortune to you.

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