State news organizations rely on UW interns to report on Legislature

Olympia reporting interns for 2011 are, from left, Tiffany Vu, Katie Schmidt, Janelle Kohnert, Brianna Butterfield, Joanna Nolasco, and David Krueger.

Olympia reporting interns for 2011 are, from left, Tiffany Vu, Katie Schmidt, Janelle Kohnert, Brianna Butterfield, Joanna Nolasco, and David Krueger.

It’s easy to take news media for granted, especially when it comes to the coverage of politics. The time-consuming process of delivering political news is deeper than what meets the eye and several Department of Communication students are finding out first-hand how much of a challenge it is to report about the law-making process that governs our lives.

It’s called the Olympia Legislative Reporting Internship and at the helm is Senior Lecturer Mike Henderson. The internship lasts all 10 weeks of winter quarter and the students live full-time in Olympia. Each student is assigned to cover the Washington state legislative session for a daily newspaper, radio or TV station.

This year’s interns are:

The Department of Communication provides students with equipment such as laptops, Flip video cameras and audio recorders. Living expenses are usually covered by participating news organizations, but recent economic times have made it more difficult.

“News organizations increasingly are unwilling/unable to pay the $2,500 yearly fee to support a student-reporter,” said Henderson. “The ideal would be to have a sustaining fund to pay, say, $20,000 per year to support eight students. That way there wouldn’t be any reluctance on the part of the news organizations.”

Katie Schmidt, a senior journalism major in the program, is no rookie when it comes to journalism. She has already interned for the Seattle P-I and the Mercer Island Reporter.

“Ever since I decided to major in journalism at the UW, I have been interested in political reporting because it really gets to the essence of why journalism is meaningful in democracy,” said Schmidt. “It’s sort of hard to make the commitment to come live in Olympia for a whole quarter, but this quarter it finally worked out so I jumped on it.”

She also said that she would like to work after college as a political reporter but the job market is hard to get into at the moment.

Last spring, the Communication Department had a fundraiser to support special student projects called Transformative Learning Experiences. “The Olympia program is among the most dynamic of these experiences,” said Department Chair David Domke. “To be concrete, the fundraiser provided funds for the Olympia program for new equipment (several laptops) and funds to support student mileage, cell-phone usage, and wireless connectivity. Having funds to cover these costs is crucial to maintaining the quality of the program.”

For some organizations that participate, such as the Skagit Valley Herald, the student intern is the lone representative reporting back.

Participating editors, such as John Henrikson, of the News Tribune in Tacoma, enjoy being involved in the program and try to help interns find employment when they graduate. “The interns get a great experience, professional guidance and clips,” Henrikson said. “In many cases we simply wouldn’t be able to do the stories with our existing staff.”

Evan Schmitt is a junior in the Department of Communication.