By Laurie Bedord, Chair, Future Agricultural Communicators Committee
Faced with a fast-spreading virus, nearly two-thirds of Americans have been forced to work from home since the middle of March. As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, the nationwide lockdown also caused employers to rethink their summer internship programs.
Amid the uncertainty, many companies and organizations decided to delay the start of internships. Others, including the host of our editorial intern, chose to cancel their internships altogether. Because an internship is such a valuable experience for both the mentors and the mentees, these are never easy decisions.
An innovative pivot
In order to strike a balance between keeping our interns safe while still providing them with the best opportunities for learning under these unprecedented circumstances, I turned to two colleagues and long-time AAEA members with an idea. . . could three ag media outlets come together to host one intern for the summer? The answer from Willie Vogt and Elaine Shein was a resounding “Yes!”
The result is an eight-week internship that will be split across Successful Farming, Farm Progress, and DTN Progressive Farmer. By developing a variety of virtual experiences mixed with field assignments as restrictions are lifted, we are creating a very unique opportunity for Jessica Wesson to connect with some of the brightest ag communicators in our industry.
“For example, Holly Spangler will explore opinion writing, blogs, and developing your voice. Mike Wilson will talk about feature writing and how to better structure major stories. Lon Tonneson will explore photography and learning how to know what your reader needs or wants to hear,” says Willie Vogt, Executive Director, Content and User Engagement, Farm Progress. “We will even be including a virtual session with one of our recent hires, Austin Keating, to discuss his perspective on entering ag journalism as a new graduate.”
With 33% of employers hiring virtual interns and 71% of students open to the idea of holding a virtual internship, it’s a practice that is on the rise, according to WayUp. And as we are learning, virtual internships can be diverse.
“The rotation between the three media outlets is something most people don’t see in a whole career, let alone two months,” says Wesson, who is a recent graduate from the University of Arkansas. “I am excited to learn about the contrasts and similarities among Successful Farming, Farm Progress, and DTN Progressive Farmer. This internship is exactly what I needed to better explore a career in agricultural communications.”
U.S. Wheat Associates, the host for the marketing internship, is also crafting a new plan for Dylan Davidson, a recent graduate from Texas Tech University.
“Overall, the pandemic has pushed our team to refocus our strategies. We are excited to bring Dylan’s perspective and talents into that mix,” says Amanda Spoo, Director of Communications, U.S. Wheat Associates. “It won’t be a typical experience, but it’s also a really unique opportunity for growth in adversity, hard work, creativity, communication, and risk management in ways that wouldn’t have existed outside of this pandemic. We’ve already been tackling a lot of things virtually for the first time, which will continue through Dylan’s time with us.”
While the past few months may have been full of change, the one constant is the dedication of our AAEA members to the next generation of ag communicators. To those of you who have offered your time and talent not only this summer, but in past years, know your guidance, expertise, and mentoring make a difference to our interns.