When Matt Larsen, Fort Hays State University senior, walked out of a timed national test last October, he was very discouraged. Just as time expired, he realized he had misread the instructions for a major portion of the exam.
Larsen was sure he had blown any chance of passing the test and being offered a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Editing Internship, one of the most prestigious and highly sought after internships in journalism.
That's why when the call came Dec. 11 offering him a $3,500 internship for the summer of 2004, Larsen was not only elated, but shocked.
"When I first heard from my roommate that there was a telephone call from someone with Dow Jones, I thought it was someone calling to politely tell me I didn't make the cut. Then, when I got hold of them, they offered me the internship," Larsen said. "It was quite a surprise."
Larsen will spend two weeks attending internship orientation at Penn State University from May 16-28. Then he will report immediately to Plattsburgh, NY, to begin his 10-week editing internship at the Press-Republican, a daily newspaper with circulation of 22,800. Plattsburgh is a town of about 18,500 located on the shore of Lake Champlain. A resort community, it is also home to Plattsburgh State University of New York, which has an enrollment of around 5,500. Larsen believes he will feel right at home in the college community.
Test monitor Linn Ann Huntington, director of journalism at FHSU, said she knew Larsen was disappointed when he left the test room that October afternoon.
"But I knew I couldn't give him any extra time. Rules are rules."
Approximately 700 college juniors, seniors and graduate students from across the nation take the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Editing Test each fall. Of those, 100 students are offered $3,500 internships at news services and newspapers across the country. In addition to smaller papers, such as the Press-Republican, larger papers such as the Denver Post, New York Times and Washington Post also participate in the internship program.
"It's a very prestigious test that's been around since 1968,'" said Huntington. "Students who successfully complete their internships are virtually assured of a full-time job at a good newspaper after graduation."
Larsen said he first became interested in journalism when he was a senior in high school and had to fill a slot in his class schedule. He went on to work for his weekly hometown paper, the Ellsworth Reporter, for short periods of time; served as editor of the Interroban student newspaper at Barton County Community College for a year; and has worked on the twice-weekly University Leader campus newspaper at FHSU since the fall of 2002. He served as the Leader's editor-chief in spring 2003.
This semester he is working for the Leader as a copy editor and as the Student Government Association beat reporter. He said he hopes to bring back knowledge from his internship that will benefit the Leader when he returns in fall 2004.
He plans to graduate in December 2004 with a B.A. in communication studies, with an emphasis in journalism and a minor in political science. In addition to the $3,500 he will earn this summer, he will receive a $1,000 Dow Jones Newspaper Fund scholarship for the fall. The internship also pays for his roundtrip travel to the pre-internship orientation and to Plattsburgh.
Of his career goals following graduation, Larsen said, "I'd like to start out at a large Kansas daily newspaper to further build up my experience and use it as a springboard to a newspaper in a much larger -- and warmer -- climate, perhaps Orlando."
Huntington has been a monitor for the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund test for 18 years, 13 of them at FHSU.
"I always encourage my students, particularly those in my news editing class, to take the test -- if nothing else, just to experience what it is like. Yes, at FHSU we have a small journalism program, compared to some of the other Regents schools. But on a national test, I think everyone is on a level playing field. I believe that good students coming out of a good quality program can compete on a national level with anyone."
There is no charge to take the exam. It has five sections: spelling; grammar and punctuation; editing news stories; writing headlines; and knowledge of current events. In addition to the timed test, students are required to submit a resume, a 500-word autobiographical sketch, their college transcript and the names of two references. This year, five FHSU students took the test, but only four submitted the rest of their materials and were therefore eligible for an internship, Huntington said.
Obviously, Larsen did a lot better on the test than he thought he did.
"I took the test to see how well I would do in comparison to other students, particularly from back East at Ivy League schools," he said.
Now he has his answer.