On my first day at Smithsonian magazine, an editor welcomed me with a frazzled smile and proofreading assignment. It was the magazine’s closing week, and with a double issue due in less than three days, the team needed everyone on hand. I dove in eagerly, obsessing over accents in the French words populating a story about Hannibal’s journey to Rome, dashes in the names of intellectuals featured in an infographic, and the italicization of non-English words in a photo essay about Haitian Vodou. As finalized pages landed on the giant wall of proofs, the office’s collective stress level diminished, and I began to explore other aspects of Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education and research complex. As the magazine that shares its name, Smithsonian offers interns access to some of the country’s greatest minds and treasures. Reporting on Smithsonian exhibitions and miscellaneous projects––including a Sylvia Plath show at the National Portrait Gallery, the birth of a Sumatran tiger at the National Zoo and ongoing renovations at the Freer Gallery––has given me the chance to go behind-the-scenes at museums I’ve visited since childhood. Outside of Smithsonian-specific articles, I’ve honed my history, science and culture writing skills with stories about Mata Hari, a lost play by J.M. Barrie and Modigliani.
Working for both Smithsonian.com and the print magazine has been an interesting balancing act. The web provides opportunities for on-the-ground reporting and longform writing, and in today’s digital media landscape, it’s helpful to have experience with social media, content management systems and aggregation journalism. Assignments for the print side included fact-checking, proofreading, conducting background research and writing short items for the front-of-book section. Digital and print are mediums with contrasting needs and styles, and my Smithsonian internship has shown me how to navigate these differences. At the start of college, my dream career was an editor or reporter at a print magazine. Although I enjoyed digital reporting, I found the tangibility of a print product more enticing. After a summer at Smithsonian and two summers at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, however, I’ve realized that my ideal job is one with digital and print crossover.
The ASME internship program is an unparalleled chance to immerse yourself in the magazine business. My Smithsonian editors have been incredibly open to zany ideas (my Mata Hari pitch was based on a Dutch article about a French dossier, and I can’t speak either language), and they want interns to gain as much experience as possible. I am especially grateful to the editors who spent hours looking over my pieces and explained their thought processes in great detail. Overall, the biggest takeaway from my summer in D.C. is the importance of actively seeking out opportunities. Some of my favorite projects were assignments from editors, but others happened because I took initiative and pursued my own interests. If you want to work with the CMS or write for the website’s aggregation channel, just ask––as cliché as this sounds, the worst that can happen is your editor says no. More often than not, they’ll be impressed and give you the green light.