Two and a half weeks ago Chris Hine, who this fall will enter his senior year at The University of Notre Dame, was saying his goodbyes to staffers he’d met at the beginning of his summer internship at the sports desk of The Los Angeles Times.
They’d been around at the beginning to help him out with stories, give him pointers, and occasionally have him make a call for a fresh take on a bit of news. And then, with one of the recent rounds of layoffs at the newspaper, they were gone, leaving the intern behind.
The firing of these mostly younger reporters – people practically straight out of college – hit home for Mr. Hine, who is the current editor-in-chief at The Observer, Notre Dame’s campus daily.
"It makes me think twice about my decision to not apply to law school," he said with a laugh. "You’re in college and the job world seems distant. Then, you see something like this happening, and it wakes you up."
Julie Stagis, a Hartford Courant Middletown bureau intern who will be a junior at the University of Connecticut, has seen the size of her bureau go from about eight to three (the numbers fluctuate, as reporters from nearby bureaus drop in). Coupled with three interns, that’s a one-to-one ratio.
"My editor said that she can’t, with a good conscience, tell us to go into the newspaper business," Ms. Stagis said.
Across the country this summer, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed interns walked into a dramatic summer storm in the newspaper industry. In most cases, they were unaware of the anxiety lurking in the corners of Sam Zell’s Tribune Company papers.
Khari Johnson is the lone intern at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Delray Beach bureau. The Sun-Sentinel, which was hit with 55 layoffs, or 20 percent of its staff, doled out pink slips last Friday.
"I feel like I’m not really supposed to complain about it as much," Mr. Johnson said. "I’m in a better position than someone who’s in their thirties, who’s been in the industry for a while and has a wife and kids."
Although people who lost their jobs have until the end of the month to leave, some of them are already gone, including Johnson’s former roommate for the summer, a reporter who had been with the paper for about 10 years.
Mr. Johnson, a San Diego native, recently moved out of their shared apartment for reasons unrelated to either of their jobs. A recent graduate of San Francisco State University, he is still working at the Sun-Sentinel. The veteran reporter is not.
Last Thursday, summer interns at the Courant got a piece of Sam Zell, owner of the Tribune Company, when staffers there gathered around a cake topped with a picture of the man who orchestrated the paper’s recent cutbacks. Both the Courant’s staff and news hole were cut by about 25 percent this summer.
"It was delicious," said features intern Anne VanderMey. "Half chocolate, half vanilla."
At the cubicle cluster of the L.A. Times national desk intern Kate Linthicum, just two people remain where there were once four.
None of the interns noticed any particular dependence on their services in the absence of veteran reporters and editors. Most simply were saddened by the state of the profession they still dream of practicing when they get out of school.
But maybe not at newspapers; maybe longer-form magazine writing, blogging or a new formula altogether.
"Despite the fact that there is this definite malaise hanging over the newsroom, I still get to spend my days with some of the smartest, most interesting people who are doing the most mind-blowing journalism," Ms. Linthicum said.
"People are responding to all of this with this kind of resiliency. They’re working hard, trying to show to the owner of the paper that this is a good product."
Of course, at some places interns are being cut, too. At Newsday, for instance, budget cuts forced the paper to suspend its internship program after accepting 25 paid interns last summer with a promise of a job offer to two of them.
Ms. VanderMey of the Courant said she hasn’t noticed much of an uptick in her job responsibilities over the course of this long, hot summer.
But she did mention something else: her reluctance to talk much about her life at college. She is a senior at the University of Michigan, Sam Zell’s alma mater.
"I used to tell people that," she said. "But I don’t volunteer it now."