It's time for media companies to stop offering unpaid internships, says a journalism student, Bethany Horne. The only students who can afford to work for free the summer, she says, are those lucky enough to come from families with money. That's no way to bring diverse voices or fresh perspectives into a newsroom.
I just finished the final year of a journalism program at a university. Most of my friends and peers are in the position I am: looking for a way in to the “Fortress of Journalism,” as Robert Krulwich called it in this speech which has been picking me and my friends out of the doldrums in between our failed job applications.
Those already inside the walls say their craft rewards independence and wiliness, yet the lords of the fortress are large conglomerates—corporations with their own cultures and chains of command. I won’t dwell too much on the nature of the fortress itself.But what we are told, the tribe-less loners on the beach, is that the surest way in to the media as it is, is through the internship. Harkening back to the mentor/apprentice relationships of old, the internship is understood as a bridge: in between being a student and becoming a worker. Journalism educators, usually allergic to clichés, trill the words “foot in the door” on the heels of “internship” like it’s going out of fashion.
I did one. It was great. It was a start-up company, with a concept I really believe in, so I was ok with it. But I had to do an internship, to earn the right to graduate, so I didn’t fret over the ethical implications at the time.I do, now. Because my friends who had to do a short internship to graduate are now doing summer-long or longer ones, with no job in sight. The first foot in the door was kicked out, I guess.
I have no doubt my friends will eventually find work, and possibly through people they meet through the fake work of the internship. But, I don’t think the system, as it is, helps journalists, and I don’t think, ultimately, it helps journalism, or the public this industry is supposed to serve.
First of all, most of the clansmen leading the armies atop the fortress didn’t get there through an internship. In fact, they didn’t go to journalism school at all. The training media organizations used to pay employees to take has been downloaded onto institutions where the potential employees pay to be trained and then have to work for free to prove their worth. It’s brilliant, I tell you. Coupled with
But unpaid internships, ultimately, are harmful because they restrict the kinds of people who can access employment by our media, and they perpetuate the problems that are already present, in terms of the race, class and origin of the people who hold media power.