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Interns in Washington: Finding News Ways to Wow the Hill

5 years ago
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It's the time of year when 20,000 bright-eyed, ambitious college students pour into Washington, D.C. to start their jobs as summer interns. These kids have finally made it to the big show, working in the nation's capitol. Eagerness and egos in hand, they soon find out that the qualities that got them there can just as soon lead to their demise.

Interns in Washington have become a spectacle, a means of entertainment to fill up conversations at the water cooler. Classic mistakes and faux pas have become legend for locals. So, interns, watch out when summer comes around. You're being observed closely. There is no learning curve. Proper behavior is expected. Interns (of which I happen to be one) have to know proper intern etiquette if they're going to make it through the summer unscathed.

Take identification cards, for example. For most, getting a brand new I.D. badge is a great experience -- access to important places accompanied by a new sense of power and responsibly. However, for some Capitol Hill interns, the red I.D. badge is a dreaded accessory in the halls of power. Staffers closely watch interns wearing the "red badge of courage" around town or flashing it at security to get into private, non-Capitol related events. If they're not careful, they could end up on some blog.

These days, in D.C., it's not just any blog. It's the DC [Summer] Interns blog, a favorite amongst Washington staffers and interns alike. Allowing people to anonymously submit stories of poor intern behavior, the blog has become so popular that it is a guaranteed bookmark in any Hill office. In fact, the blog is often recommended to new interns as a guide for what not to do.

"This year, however, you often hear interns make remarks such as, 'I hope I don't end up on the blog' or, 'Please don't send that to the blog,' and we have begun to realize that perhaps this really is changing the behavior of interns in D.C.," a representative of the website, who did not want to be identified, said. "And we hope that it continues to improve, despite the fact that it would lead to the demise of the blog."

Senate intern Margaret Schmidt agrees, saying that every intern in her office knows about the blog, some even reading up on posts before they got into town.

"Some of the advice and the stories are helpful because you can learn from truly dumb mistakes," she said. "I think it can also be a little overblown, because I can't imagine that all the authors of these posts are the humblest -- it's the Hill."

The representative said that 75 percent of the entries come from Hill staffers and the rest come from other government agencies or local residents. They even claim that staffers have sent their praise to the website for helping improve intern conduct.

"It is interesting the number of e-mails we receive from chiefs of staff on the Hill and individuals who work in foreign governments, thanking us for our blog and how it is improving the manner in which interns carry themselves in the workplace," the representative said.

Ironically enough, none of the site organizers work on the Hill. Starting as a forum between college friends to air complaints, it turned into a more ubiquitous site in the D.C. area.

But the DC [Summer] Interns blog is not the only site dedicated to the time-honored tradition of calling out rogue interns. There's also Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson's Campus Overload column. Covering an array of college-related news, her most popular articles fall under her "that intern" feature. From the "party intern" to the "I'm-from-NYC-and-hate-D.C. intern," she continues to define the many faces of these students.

Others, such as On Tap or Roll Call, have also added their two cents on what to do and not do, including must-sees like Ben's Chili Bowl or the Politics and Prose bookstore in the D.C. metro area.

Some ask why D.C. interns receive so much attention. No one can be that bad, right? Locals would wholeheartedly disagree. Dan Hess, a Georgetown graduate student, said that it is great that so many people view Washington as a place of opportunity. The problem lies in those who don't know how to act properly when they get there.

"I also think the D.C. summer interns bring with them an invigorating, bright-eyed view of the world with them that those of us who live and work here year-round often forget because we get cynical, we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day work," he said. "With that said, their naivety, both of what the city has to offer as well as how people are expected to act in a very political and professional city, is blatantly obvious and quite often very annoying to those of us who are here long-term."

From the "skintern" (a female intern that doesn't know the difference between a club dress and a work dress) to the overly privileged intern (one who got there because of their parents' extraordinary wealth and connections), the behavior justifies the expansion of reporters' beats to cover the summer influx.

Some interns, however, do think there's too much hype on intern stories. House intern Brenna Fujimoto said that interns are easy targets since there are so many of them during the summer. It's easy then, she says, for the DC [Summer] Interns blog to become such a must-see.

"I think as long as no one takes what they say seriously, it's all in good fun," she said. "We are all doing this together, which makes it even better because we all know we are going to make some of those same mistakes at some point."

Tax Court clerk Chris Davis said that he doesn't have time to read all the blogs and articles surrounding D.C. interns. To him, there are more important things to fret about.

"Interns only deserve the hype when they're sexually involved with their congressman," Davis said.

So, if you are an intern in D.C., you have already heard it all -- don't be "that intern." Don't think that you are all that and tell your mom you're doing more than you actually are, or walk into a random chief of staff's office and give them your card. If you don't listen and fall into that trap, your story could be the next big conversation starter at work the next day.

Filed Under: The Cram

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