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Unpaid journalism internships: Education or exploitation?

A new survey of students, employers and schools points to overhauling unpaid internship programs Continue Reading Unpaid journalism internships: Education or exploitation?

By Aneurin Bosley, Susan Harada, Terra Tailleur and Cheryl Vallender

Internships are a required component for many post-secondary journalism programs in Canada, but many positions tend to be unpaid. Sixty-five per cent of students who responded to a new survey conducted by researchers at three journalism schools said they would be less likely to apply for unpaid positions. The same proportion of respondents said that being paid for the work is extremely or very important for them. Some cite affordability as a factor while others feel that unpaid positions are unethical, and that work has value even though it is being performed by student interns. 

This report’s authors conducted surveys to gauge attitudes towards internships among three different groups: students enrolled in English-language post-secondary journalism programs; employers in Canadian newsrooms; and the heads of journalism programs. This is the first study in Canada to survey a large number of journalism students on their attitudes towards unpaid internships and the first to survey these different groups simultaneously for comparative analysis. While most survey respondents recognize the value that internships can provide to journalism students, we find strong evidence that a lack of payment is a disincentive for students to participate. In principle, journalism program heads could simply end participation in unpaid placements. But they are reluctant to do that, evidently because they fear many positions would disappear, making it difficult for their students to complete course or program requirements. However, if journalism educators and employers want to ensure that access to experience and possible career paths is truly equitable, they must seek a way to end this practice.

This research note appears in the Spring 2023 issue of Facts and Frictions. Read the article here.

Facts and Frictions is published by J-Schools Canada/Écoles-J Canada, Canada’s national association for post-secondary journalism research and education. All content is open access and available via J-Source.