March 26, 2010
/ by Katrina M Mendolera
Journalism interns will work for free
The summer that Vocus media researcher Zoe Lintzeris worked as an unpaid intern at the Washington Examiner she decided journalism was probably not the right field for her. Not only did she not get paid, but she had to pay for her own transportation to work and assignments. Being the quintessential poor college student, she remembers that on one occasion she had to ask the paper for money so she could get to an event she was covering. “All in all, it was exhausting,” she said.
Although it’s pretty common for journalism students to not get paid, even programs that once provided monetary compensation are declining. According to The Michigan Daily, the Detroit Free Press was forced to cut its internship program along with the Cincinnati Enquirer, which joined the ranks of those that reward interns with course credit. “Print/newspaper/magazine internships (especially paid internships) have dropped,” said Patsy Watkins, chair of the Lemke Department of Journalism at the University of Arkansas, in an e-mail interview. “In fact, it seems it is more common not to pay interns but require them to get course credit in order to qualify for it – which means essentially that the student is paying (tuition) to get the internship experience, rather than getting paid.”
The Concordian, Concord University’s student publication, reports that 95 percent of employers believe that internships are a primary factor when hiring, resulting in higher demand and less willingness to pay. “In my experience, only about 25 percent of all students who find internships get paid,” Jenni Canterbury, internship advisor in the communication arts department of Concord University, told The Concordian.”
The lack of funding for interns has become a subject of interest in the news recently. In February, the New York Times announced that it had recruited New York University journalism students to produce The Local East Village, a new Times Web site. “With a new site run mostly by students, the Times gets more local coverage for cheap and students get a prestigious byline under the New York Times banner,” wrote Business Insider’s Gillian Reagan. The Awl.com’s Choire Sicha posted some heated remarks on the subject: “This set-up suggests that the way to finance local news operations is only on the backs of free labor.”
On the same day the Times revealed that it would be partnering up with NYU students, the Huffington Post launched a college edition of its site, recruiting writers from college campuses across the country. Huffington Post citizen journalism editor Adam Clark Estes told The New York Observer last month that although the organization had a small amount budgeted for some costs and equipment, the student reporters would be paid in exposure, not dollars.
The amount of money interns are making may have dropped to nearly nothing, but the amount of experience they are getting in newsrooms seems to be another matter. As manager of the Vocus Media Research Group magazine team, Rebecca Bredholt has noticed that interns are being given titles like editorial assistant or associate editor when they haven’t even graduated from college. “This isn’t necessarily a new trend. What’s new is the additional responsibilities these interns are now being given – more than ever before,” she said.
Lintzeris went from minor duties, such as writing local news briefs at the Examiner, to being given the job of running a blog on technology, a topic she admittedly knew next to nothing about. In fact, many journalism job postings are remarkably social media and technology heavy. Newsday advertises for unpaid interns to work 20 hours a week and have experience “working with video and audio for the Web. Specifically, familiarity with SoundForge, StudioDV, Final Cut Pro, Flash and Photoshop are a plus.”
Unpaid internships may be the trend, but it’s not the rule. At the Charleston Daily Mail students are paid approximately $350 a week – not much less than some working reporters receive as their regular wages. And although it may not be a living, it’s enough for an intern to afford a small apartment in Charleston while gaining valuable experience, said editor Nanya Friend. The paper budgets for three interns a year. Lately, Friend has been happy to be able to extend the amount of time the interns can work for the paper, “which is great, because we really like interns – they’re a big help,” she said. With a full-time staff of 32, Friend said that by the time the various editors are factored out, there aren’t a whole lot of reporters.
Although most students would preferably like to be paid for their services, there are some, like Steven Kent from WalletPop.com who – despite skipping meals in the service of a journalism internship as a college student – expressed in a recent article that he felt an unpaid internship was worth it. “You might not turn your internship into a full-time position upon graduation, no matter how hard you work, and you probably won’t fall into fabulous wealth along the way, either,” he wrote. “But from my own experiences, I know you can proceed with this knowledge at least: If you can make it as an unpaid intern with a bit of grace, you’re ready for anything.”
Lintzeris is of the opposite sentiment: “You’re providing a service. You deserve to be paid for your efforts.”
–Katrina M. Mendolera
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