After Matt Lauer, a prominent alumni of Ohio University’s MDIA school was terminated from NBC’s Today in November 2017, Robert Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, assembled a task force of student media leaders to address students’ concerns over intern safety, but the suggestions compiled have not been fully instituted as the contributors hoped.
Stewart said Lauer was “instrumental” in arranging partnerships between Ohio University journalism students and Today.
The task force, which was made up of six seniors who worked for nearly three months, compiled a 21-page report that assessed the status of the journalism school’s internship program and presented its ideas to a group of professors to improve students’ internship experience.
Among those suggestions were an orientation prior to internships, a specialized internship advisor in the journalism school and “check in” surveys students could fill out to document their time interning.
“There was no existing support system in place,” Cat Hofacker, a member of the task force, said. “We were going off and doing these internships, but we were getting them ourselves, we were executing them ourselves, we were coming back and reflecting on our own experiences in a bubble.”
She also explained that there was no opportunity for students who experienced sexual harassment to notify the school or to cease approving internships for those organizations.
The internship requirement is now moderately different than before, as two main components of their report was implemented: the surveys and an orientation. Students are also now required to fill out a pre-approval form with their advisor prior to their internship.
Students must then fill out three surveys over the course of their time away from campus: one before, to prepare for the experience; one during, to update on the internship’s conductivity; and one after regarding overall experience.
The surveys, that are in their third phase for students currently interning, are meant to offer students the chance to speak in confidentiality regarding any negative experience he or she might have had while interning. Those negative experiences could include sexual assault, as the surveys include questions regarding whether or not the student would like to be contacted about a particular concern.
Stewart said Lauer’s firing was the driving force behind this change.
“If you’re going to require an internship, then you’re obligated, I think, to make sure it’s a safe environment and to take steps to make sure that if something’s going wrong then to know about it and can take corrective measure,” Stewart said.
Now, the school tracks who is at which organization at any given time and provides the opportunity for students to ask that resources reach out to them should they experience sexual harassment or other issues while interning.
“When the whole Matt Lauer scandal was revealed, I just remember the panic we all felt of, like, ‘oh my goodness, we were sending lambs out to slaughter,‘“ Marisa Fernandez, a member of the task force and former assistant managing editor of The Post, said. “We needed to gear students up for this unfortunate possibility.”
The point of the proposed orientation, Fernandez said, would be to prepare students for the “culture shock” that comes with transitioning from student life to professional and to allow resources like the Survivor Advocacy Program, or SAP, the opportunity to showcase their services.
Abby Grisez, another contributor to the task force, emphasized how important the orientation would be for students.
“It was not only to help train and prevent sexual misconduct, but it was also to just help guide people to what things might really be like in the workforce, networking, just professionally as well,” Grisez said.
Lauren Papp, a sophomore studying journalism, interned this previous summer. She attended a meeting in April that served as an orientation; however, attendance was not mandatory.
The idea for a specialized advisor in the journalism school was another suggestion by the task force that has yet to be implemented, likely due to financial reasons, Hofacker said.
Karen Peters currently serves Scripps in its entirety for internship services, but the task force recommended someone be hired to specifically handle students in the journalism track.
A new webpage has been implemented as a means to provide resources to interning students. On the journalism program’s website, there is a link to a page titled “Stay Safe!”
On the page there are videos from SAP, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Equity and Civil Rights Department. Those videos are to alert interning students of support services should they become victims of sexual assault during an off-campus internship.
“It’s easy when you’re away from campus to stop feeling connected to campus and all the resources that are here,” Stewart said. “These videos are to remedy this and to show students that they are still able to be heard even when they are not on campus.”
As for the immediate results of those changes, Stewart said it’s too early to tell. Only one survey has reported anything unusual in an internship environment. The report did not concern sexual assault, but a concern of supervision.
“The supervision issue is not one we initially anticipated, but it’s a good example of how a student used the survey and took the opportunity to raise a red flag with us,” Stewart said.
As a result, the journalism school will not approve internships with that organization anymore.
Stewart said that while he doesn’t believe other departments are considering strengthening their internship requirements like the journalism school has, a few others have asked for access to the videos on the “Stay Safe!” webpage.
Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that Lauer is an alumnus of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.