Halfway through the summer of 1999 I received the monthly bag of magazines from my well-read cousin. I perused Philadelphia Magazine.
As an undergraduate, I envisioned a nice office overlooking Center City. Hell, if I couldn’t sell my own short stories I might as well make a career out of selling someone else’s work.
I applied for an internship, and the research editor called me within a week to schedule an interview. I graciously accepted, frantically scanned previous issues and showed up in his office two days later with a shave, a haircut and a smile — and a few rough ideas for the magazine.
I can honestly say my internship at Philadelphia Magazine was a great experience.
Although the position was unpaid, I did receive a handful of checks for each piece I wrote that was published in the magazine — sandwiched among a multitude of advertisements.
I received my own e-mail account, through which I sent several messages, mostly to my friends, pretending to be important. And I made it to several high-brow parties, thrown by the magazine, which John Timoney, Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz and former mayor Ed Rendell attended.
Most of my time, however, consisted of fact checking. This required me to triple- and quadruple-check every word that was going to be published in the magazine for the upcoming month.
Often that entailed calling each person interviewed and quoted throughout the entire magazine, as well as public relations people at restaurants, theaters and various entertainment venues regarding their upcoming events. I often stayed past the close of the business day to reach politicians and other people with local celebrity status.
In exchange for all this work I was frequently offered the opportunity to pitch stories. After countless suggestions (and a few idle threats), a few ideas were accepted. After many arduous hours spent proofreading other people’s work, it would be nice to have someone proof my own!
However, the grapes of wrath were browned in no time at all as the politics of the magazine became quite evident shortly after my first piece, which originally given the green light, was turned down.
As for camaraderie within the ranks, each intern was assigned two writers for whom they would do various tasks, mostly busy work like copying, mailing and filing.
I was lucky enough to do very little of this secretarial work and was often given “bigger” and “meatier” tasks and assignments.
One such project involved the mayoral race: the Philadelphia Magazine internship meant constant communication with both parties’ campaign and press managers, keeping tabs on many aspects of the campaign – for example, both parties’ contribution list.
I’ll be entering Temple’s PhD program in Mass Media and Communication; I’d also like to freelance write fiction and nonfiction. My internship experience provided me with the initial contacts I’ll need when I have a story idea to pitch.
Would I work in the magazine business? Yes.
Would I work for Philadelphia Magazine? Probably not. A few writers on the staff are fantastic and dedicated to their profession, but not to the magazine. You can’t blame them considering whom they have to answer to.
If you are considering and internship, don’t expect to walk into that office and churn out stories like a champ. Like most internships, my experience taught me that being at the bottom of the ladder means having to prove yourself.
Walk into your internship with a passion for copy editing, fact checking, fax machines and strong coffee.