Ed knows it’s hard to live in New York as an unpaid intern, and with the holidays approaching, he’s excited to start his giving early and help one lucky intern out. Enter his Fall 2012 Trust Fund winner, Rega Jha, a Columbia University student and Rolling Stone web intern who has built her experience at Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue, Reader’s Digest and Time Out New York. Jha got her start interning when she was just 14 years old at Times of India after tracking down editors’ emails and telling them she’d write for free. Not even 10 years later, she tells Ed her story and spills her tips for how you too can stand out in the pack.
Ed: What drew you to magazine journalism?
Jha: Trial and error and a series of revelations! First, when I was maybe six years old, I realized that I wanted to write. Then, when I was significantly older, I realized I needed to find a way to get paid to write. So I started working for magazines, newspapers and blogs on and off campus and, literally by a process of elimination, I’ve decided I like magazines best.
Ed: Tell us about your Times of India internship. What was the experience like being so young?
Jha: It was like being thrown in the deep end with no training wheels. I was writing several stories every week, interviewing celebrities, traveling out of town to cover conferences and events, being sent to review concerts and oversee photo shoots, etc. It got overwhelming at times, but in retrospect I realize what a massive favor [the editors] did me by taking me seriously and letting me get hands-on reporting, writing and editing experience despite my being a teeny-tiny whippersnapper.
Ed: Tell us about your current internship at RollingStone.com.
Jha: I applied to intern at Rolling Stone three times before I finally got it. The first time was two years ago. I respect and revere the publication highly enough that I never stopped trying. Finally, this time around, they took me on, and I’m so glad. It is, hands down, the most fun and educational internship I’ve ever had. The work is meaningful, the people are ALL a billion times cooler than me, and the environment is productive and invigorating but still laidback and stress-free. I’m learning lot.
Ed: What are your favorite magazines to read?
Jha: The New Yorker because it combines all of my favorite things. I’m always skeptical when I go to restaurants that serve more than one cuisine because it usually means they aren’t especially good at any of them. The New Yorker defies that. Like Rolling Stone, it does a whole lot of things, and it is basically the best at all of them.
Ed: You’re also a student. What tips do you have for balancing coursework and a semester internship?
Jha: The best way I’ve found to do both without getting overwhelmed is to realize that they aren’t at odds with one another. I’m a creative writing major and working at magazines gives me a real tangible reason to learn as much as possible in class. It also gives me somewhere to apply the things I’m learning.
Ed: What advice would you offer for applying and thriving on the job?
Jha: Just get rid of your social inhibitions and let people know exactly what you want. Send emails, make phone calls, pitch story ideas, ask people to have coffee with you. Be unabashed. If you ask for something enough times and prove that you deserve to have it, someone or the other will root for you (even if it takes a few tries).
As for thriving on the job once you’ve got it, I’m just going to repeat the most helpful things I’ve heard from my former bosses. My boss at Time Out New York told me that “an internship is just a three-month-long job interview,” so to take all the conventional advice you’re given about interviews — stay calm, seem interested, come prepared, do your research, look nice, ask insightful questions, etc. — and apply it every single day. One of my bosses at Reader’s Digest told me that an intern’s job is to make their boss’s life as easy as possible. Anticipate what they need and provide it. If you can’t anticipate it, just ask.
Ed: What about your Trust Fund application do you think made you stand out from the competition?
Jha: I’m not certain! I’m a firm believer in laying everything out on the table candidly and honestly and then hoping for the best, and it seemed to work for Ed!
Ed: Let’s fast-forward five years. Where do you hope to be?
Jha: I hope to be writing or editing (or both) for a publication that I respect and actually getting paid for it!