Why I gave up USA Today to take an internship many people haven’t heard of

Let’s give this post a nice newsy lede — weird stuff has happened over the past week, and turns out I’m going to be interning at the Chronicle of Higher Education this summer. It’s my absolute dream internship, and I’m immensely lucky to get it right after graduation. Still can’t believe it, to be honest.

One of the Chronicle’s summer interns dropped out in late April, and I accepted an offer to be the replacement on Thursday. Doing so meant that I had to tell the USA Today editors who hired me that I was no longer going to be their summer intern.

When I came home to Southern Pines this weekend, several people inquired about my plans, thinking that I was still going to USA Today. I told them I was still going to D.C. but had switched internships, and when I told them where I was actually going to be working, most of them gave me blank stares.

I explained what the Chronicle was and how big of a deal it was in the journalism world, and they responded, “Oh, um, that sounds great!” A slight look of skepticism, however, remained.

I didn’t make the decision lightly. USA Today has the third-largest print circulation of any newspaper in the country. It reports from the front lines on many of the biggest stories — presidential campaigns, SCOTUS decisions, the Ferguson grand jury verdict, the NFL draft.

Now I’ve burned a bridge. I’m likely not going to be able to work at the publication in any capacity as long as those two editors are there. I understand and respect that. And narrowing your job prospects at all in journalism is generally seen as, well, an unwise move.

But I know I made the right choice.

Anyone who knows me as a writer is aware of my passion for higher education — issues facing colleges and universities, faculty, students. Anyone who has been following North Carolina news over the past five or so years knows that severe budget cuts and general shocks have rocked the public university world in the state.

It’s been an important time for journalists who know a thing or two about N.C. higher ed to step it up — including the students at The Daily Tar Heel, which serves a community that’s been roiled this year by a report detailing a two-decade academic scandal. The DTH has done incredible work on that front; see here and here (the latter being a story that we broke first).

Higher education nationwide is in the midst of an uncertain, but fascinating, era. How do we reconcile the fact that more people than ever need a college degree to earn a middle-class income and yet the cost is far higher than it’s ever been? What’s the future of tenure for faculty? What will the world of college athletics look like in a decade? How will colleges serve so-called “non-traditional students,” who come back to college after years away from school? What role will online classes and degrees and these MOOC things play?

Those are the questions that the Chronicle’s journalists try to answer. They do it through investigations, exclusive interviews, data reporting and meticulously written explanatory pieces. It’ll be an honor to work within such a venerable newsroom.

As for USA Today, it has a very particular place in the American media industry. It has the unusual job of publishing stories that every U.S. resident, from Maine to Arizona, will (theoretically) want to read. Many of its articles involve aggregation, where it links out most of the facts to other news outlets, and its stories are usually no more than 300 words long.

These short snippets might be the only way many people get news, though. What USA Today does is incredibly important. I know I would have gained valuable experience there.

Still, given the choice, I had to follow my heart. And the journalists I’ve told have commended my decision. If I really do have to leave the blissful bubble of Chapel Hill and enter the real world, this is about the best way to do it.

I can’t wait to get started.


4 thoughts on “Why I gave up USA Today to take an internship many people haven’t heard of

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