Leah Millis lives in Denver, the city where she was born. After going to Knox College in Illinois for two years, she transferred to Metropolitan State College of Denver to pursue photojournalism. Millis has worked as a photographer and photo editor at The Metropolitan, the school’s student newspaper, and done internships at The Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald and The Denver Post, before completing her most recent summer internship at The Minneapolis Star Tribune. In 2010, Millis traveled to Haiti to work on stories for two months with funding from the National Press Photographers Foundation’s Reid Blackburn Scholarship and a scholarship from the Colorado Press Women.
VS: Describe the internship program at the Star Tribune.
The summer internship at the Star Tribune is a 10-week-long deal, it starts early June and ends mid-August depending on each intern’s start date. The Strib offers two visual internships in the summer; one for stills one for video. It’s a big daily paper with a photo staff of over a dozen people. I worked with seven different editors throughout the summer depending on what shift I was working. I worked “40 hour” weeks but realistically it was quite a bit more when you add the overtime. Which they do because the paper is unionized (thumbs up!). I pretty much worked Thursday-Monday but my schedule changed week-to-week depending on where they needed someone to fill in due to vacations and such.
As an intern they bring you in to cover everything. Breaking news to feature hunting to sports to portraits. The bottom line, though, is that you’re here to do daily work. My boss told me that it’s great if you have time and energy to work on a project in your (little) spare time but their biggest need from the intern is for good daily work. At a big daily like this it was key that I know how to handle shooting multiple assignments on a day-to-day basis and that I was able to work quickly and efficiently on deadline.
VS: Who was your supervisor or mentor?Â Â What did you learn from that person?
Janet Reeves is my supervisor but I had a number of mentors. From Janet, I learned how to work hard and the importance of really working a situation to try and get the best possible image out of a scene. Something she suggested to me once was starting off the week with a really simple goal: I want to make one photograph this week that moves people. That’s my goal. Something that simple can really help bring your focus back in. Another thing I learned from watching her work and working for her was the overriding importance of serving the community. There was also a reporter at the paper who kind of became a mentor to me – Allie Shah. I was thrown right into the fire with her on my first day when we covered a breaking news story about a Somali suicide bomber who had died in Somalia but was from Minnesota. We had to find his mother and it was my job to photograph her. It was a hard assignment but we found her in the end and throughout the summer my editors tried to put me on similar stories with Allie. I was able to build a relationship with her and I learned so much about journalism from watching her work. I learned so much about the importance of persistence and how much it pays off to simply listen to people, even if you’re in a hurry.
VS: What was your favorite assignment and why?
I think the highlight of my summer was being able to work with Allie and get into the Somali community with her. Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the country and sometimes it’s like being in a different world when you’re out in their community and I loved that challenge. A lot of the women do not want to be photographed which is really difficult but again, there are ways through, you just have to be persistent but in a respectful way.
VS: What was the most important thing you learned?
I think the most important thing I learned is that good journalists don’t give up easily. You can gain a lot by talking and listening to people. On a spot news scene you can do your job and tell the story and still be respectful about it. In terms of taking photographs, if you don’t do the best job today, there’s always tomorrow.
VS: Whatâ€™s the best part about this internship? What’s the most difficult part about this internship?
There were a lot of great things about the internship. Honestly, working for Janet Reeves has kind of been a dream of mine for a while (I grew up with The Rocky Mountain News). It was amazing to be working in such a passionate newsroom with a boss who is still very passionate about telling visual stories. That kind of atmosphere really pushed me to be a better photographer/journalist every day.
VS: What was your favorite assignment and why?
It can be challenging at times to keep your energy level up and going full steam ahead when you’re working ALL the time. I think the hardest assignment was covering the aftermath of a horrific house fire at a B&B that killed six people including the owner and her two young daughters. I learned a lot from that experience though, and my editors were very helpful offering emotional support and encouraging me and the other intern to talk about it afterward which is very important.
VS: Describe your personal and professional growth during the internship.
I think the biggest growth I went through as a result of this internship was simply learning to be a better journalist. There’s a reason it’s called photojournalism. It’s much much more than just being able to take pretty pictures. I think I learned a lot about that this summer. Professionally, I was able to get a few nice clips for my portfolio and I think experience is really the only way to improve yourself. This internship will give you ten solid weeks of professional experience.
VS: What helped you get the internship?
When I’m applying for internships I usually apply for as many as I can handle. For me that’s anywhere between seven and ten applications. I’ve done that for a few years now and every year I get a lot more denials than I do offers. I think that’s part of it-apply for tons. I was told that my editors liked the fact that I had good enough singles showing that I would be able to handle daily work which was the most important thing for them. I think my Haiti story may have helped in the decision-making process too, not because it was a Haiti story but because it was an interesting story that happened to be set in Haiti.
VS: What will you do next?
Next I plan on finishing up school by December and possibly applying for one last internship. I have plans to go back to Haiti, too. A job would be nice but in the meantime freelance work pays the bills.
VS: Is there anything else youâ€™d like to add?
I think for fellow students who are looking for internships and applying: make sure you apply for a ton and don’t lose hope if you don’t get your first choice. Reach out to people who you look up to or whose work you admire and ask questions. These days with email it’s kind of silly not to. Some will respond, some won’t. Bottom line for me, is keep being curious, be a good listener and learn from your mistakes.
To learn more about applying for this internship, contact Duchesne Drew, www.startribune.com/internshipsor checkÂ