Google News Initiative, Don Bolden estate fund internships for journalism majors

School of Communications students Payton Byrnes ’21 and Julianne Quinn ’22 reflect on their experiences reporting virtually this summer for the Burlington Times-News.

Heading into the summer, Julianne Quinn ’22 did not have plans to complete an internship. Like so much else, internships were upended by the pandemic, with many companies canceling their programs and rescinding offers. At the very least, most internships faced restrictions and offered only limited, if any, on-site access. Given those prospects, the journalism major wasn’t sure how she’d benefit from an internship experience at the time. But when she received an email about an internship with the Burlington Times-News, she reconsidered – and she’s glad she did.

Payton Byrnes ’21 (left) and Julianne Quinn ’22

“I wasn’t initially planning on doing an internship at all,” Quinn said. “But I’m really happy I did it because I feel that I learned a lot. I was really able to hone in on journalism, and gain a lot of valuable experience, even though I never left my apartment.”

Quinn was joined at the newspaper of record in Alamance County by fellow Elon student Payton Byrnes ’21, with both journalism majors securing paid internships funded by the Google News Initiative’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund (JERF), which supports local news organizations, and the estate of longtime Times-News editor Don Bolden.

In the spring, Google launched JERF to support the production of original journalism for local communities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Elon News Network, Elon’s student-run news organization, applied and was one of more than 1,600 U.S. publishers to receive funding. In total, JERF funded more than 5,600 publishers across the globe.

Following ENN’s selection, Donnie Fetter, regional editor at the Burlington Times-News, chose Byrnes and Quinn from a competitive application pool. He commended the student interns for their applications and said they stood apart because of their focus on past writing experiences.

“The Times-News is more than a newspaper. We are a multimedia company and we want to do more with the video and audio capabilities afforded to us via our website,” Fetter said. “However, writing remains the primary vehicle through which we disseminate news to our readers. I don’t think that is likely to change anytime soon.”

He added, “Julianne and Payton helped us in our mission to expand coverage during a moment in time when many news providers were forced to retract due to travel or social limitations imposed upon us by COVID-19. And as they helped us inform our community, I hope we imparted to them the importance of accuracy and fairness in delivering the news.”

Byrnes, who found herself in need of an internship after a previous arrangement fell through, and Quinn worked virtually for the Times-News. They searched for story ideas, researched, interviewed local sources and wrote from home. Byrnes said that nearly all of her interviews and correspondence with her editors took place online. Being remote and working from home, rather than a traditional workplace setting, challenged Byrnes to practice her time management skills.

“When you aren’t in the workplace environment you originally imagined for your internship, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to get things done,” Byrnes said. “With a remote internship, the experience is so much what you make of it.”

During her summer coverage, Byrnes chronicled Alamance County conservationist Alison Peeler, which was one of her favorite articles because she conducted the interview in person. But the story Byrnes said she learned the most from highlighted the rise in domestic violence cases since the stay-at-home orders went into effect.

“It was such a sensitive topic and so I had to do a ton of research and speak to a lot of people to make sure everything was accurate,” Byrnes said.

From covering summer camps adapting to COVID-19 policies to what is happening at Elon University, Quinn said she learned a lot from her editor’s feedback and the constant practice of writing and reporting throughout the summer.

“It was really helpful and beneficial, and I gained lots of experience,” Quinn said. “I have stories published. It was really cool to see my name as a byline in an actual paper.”

To read more of the students’ stories, visit the Burlington Times-News website.