The question of unpaid internships is constantly looming around Twitter debates, journalism websites and real-life conversations. It was the interview I did with Billy Dowling-Reid here, that sparked off my idea for this blog post. As he said in the interview – ‘I loathe unpaid internships’. It was the first time I had interviewed someone who put it out there – bluntly – to say that entry level media students shouldn’t have to work for free.
When I began looking for a job, my whole mindset was focused on the plan that ideally, I really did not want to have to work for three months, on an unpaid internship, that would maybe or maybe not get me a job at the end of it. I have heard success stories out of internships, working for free gave them links to what is now their full-time paid job, as shown in the interview with Surena Chande and I do realise that sometimes, it really can work out. But, in my mind, I was thinking:
- I have already worked for free in media publications, starting when I was 15 and my last one was when I was 21. I never ever expected travel expenses or any pay for the time I spent at any of these publications because I was simply yearning for the experience of it all.
- I have spent a lot (I can’t even bring myself to spell out the amount) of money going to university and paying my way through both tuition fees and accomodation to be able to get a degree. I went to university as an investment in my career. Knowing that people can get graduate jobs with a really decent salary makes it even more degrading when you are coming out of university to work for free.
- Not only did I spend money on my degree, but I forked out another chunk of money to complete my NCTJ. By doing this, I would be a qualified journalist by the end of it, I would have had my journalism training and completed even more work experience during the course. I am a qualified journalist! Surely that deserves some sort of pay?
- I agree with internships when you are an intern – you have some responsibility but in the majority you are helping out, learning, training and shadowing other staff in the team. What I do not agree with are internships that are treated like job applications, with a list of all your responsibilities (as an unpaid intern), a list of all the qualities and skills you must have to apply for this position, and the fact that only £10 expenses a day will be contributed towards your travel. This isn’t ideal if you are community to London every day for the internship.
- I’m nearly 23 and I would quite like to move out soon. Working for nothing can be seen as an investment into my career but gives me no option to think about moving out of my parent’s house (!!).
It was for these reasons, that I was determined to look for a paid, full-time job at an entry-level position. The frustrating thing I found is that there are entry-level jobs that only require a degree and some experience, things that I already had, so if companies are willing to pay for a journalism graduate to begin their career, why should we put our efforts into companies that aren’t? Gorkana is a great website that advertises jobs in the media and their Twitter feed and daily job emails were invaluable to me when I first began looking for jobs, but I found that there were increasingly more internships that were being advertised, for longer periods of time, for even less expenses. Gorkana is a hugely recognised site and yet I found myself looking more at mediamuppet because of the fact entry-level jobs were advertised and paid internships.
I don’t think unpaid internships are a waste of time at all, and I will admit that I have applied for them before myself. But I think the ‘novelty’ of having an unpaid intern working for you in your office has gone too far. Now, not only interns, but actual job positions are being advertised to work, unpaid. Roles I found such as ‘editorial assistants’ or ‘junior feature writers’ appealed to me on job websites, but after you read how amazing the job would be, you get to the last line of the job advert…
‘This is an unpaid position initially for a period of three months with the potential of a paid position afterwards.’
Will you actually get a paid position at the end, or will the internship be re-advertised in exactly the same manner, for another person to complete three months? Obviously if you really stand out, work extremely hard and accept the fact you will be running very low on funds for three months, then I think that makes a difference. If you show the company you are invaluable to have in the office then it may be a huge advantage to you when your internship is up. But that’s the chance you have to take when you are applying to them. So obviously there are benefits to these internships:
- Experience for your CV
- Contacts in the industry
- A possible lead into a future job
- Learning skills you will need in these positions
But I think that aspiring journalists, and anyone really in a position where unpaid internships are the ‘norm’ in that career path, need to achieve a balance of working unpaid to show passion and being exploited as an intern. There are things you can do to achieve this, to show both your determintation to pursue this career, but also your professionalism that you are a qualified journalist with a undergraduate degree on your CV.
- Being able to be an intern as well as doing a paid job can help you achieve a balance, maybe a couple of days a week.
- Writing articles for free for websites and even taking up positions such as section editors or sub editors can show experience on your CV, but again, this can be done whilst working too so it isn’t costing you to do it.
- Working short stints of internships – Now Magazine offer a one month placements that are beneficial because of getting free hands on digital training – not just sitting around making cups of tea! Four weeks is a feasible time to firstly be able to learn and also not be taking advantage of the interns.
It is a complicated subject and I don’t think I will ever be able to completely be one-sided, saying that working for free is wrong, but I do think it can be taken too far and part of the reason is wannabe journalists letting this happen. Be confident in your abilities to be paid for the work you do!