Unpaid Internships: The Positives

On the last post about internships, I focussed mainly on the negative aspects of working for free – how it was unfair to exploit journalism graduates by giving them job responsibility and yet refusing to pay them little more than £10 a day towards expenses. To me, I personally feel that internships lasting 3-6 months are unfair. But I do understand that there are a lot of benefits people have gained from working unpaid, so I decided to search out some people who can vouch for it.


Lewis Deakin,20, is a Sports PR and Journalisms student preparing to go into his final year at Staffordshire University. He frequently freelances as a Sports Journalist for a range of newspapers across the West Midlands, to as far as London. Ideally, Lewis wants to be working as a full-time paid Sports Journalist covering famous events such as Wimbledon, the Ashes and World Cups. “I have wanted to be a Journalist since the age of 13, so it would mean the world to me if that’s what I am doing in 10 years time’, said Lewis when asked about his future prospects.

Lewis spoke of his first unpaid internship with the Express and Star newspaper, a regional title based in Wolverhampton:

“I interviewed people for articles that were needed for the next’s day paper, or the weekly free editions. I also proof-read some pages looking for any errors within the copy or in the page’s layout. Interviewing taught me the importance of preparation. Before asking the interviewee a question – I’d know a bit about them, who they played for?, their sides form?, and who they played next? This broke the ice often, as it shows you’ve prepared yourself. Writing articles for them was fantastic as I got used to working under pressure and to tight deadlines. Last week on placement with the Star, I did 10 articles in one day!”

Lewis has also worked for the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office in Staffordshire, seeing firsthand how the Commisioner’s office engages with the media, “The biggest benefit was seeing the BBC live in action-How many people can say that? I spoke frequently with their reporter picking up her email address, which I’ll use to gain work with Midlands Today. The best part was appearing on the program for five seconds of fame.”

“On the placement I picked up new skills in media monitoring, filming and photography. One of my pictures was even used by the Star, and one of my interviews with the Commissioner is on his official Youtube channel.”

Lewis also spoke of his freelance work that he had done unpaid, having written over 100 articles for papers across the country. He found that Twitter was a great tool to get him in contact with former Premier League footballers and getting in contact with his local Non-League football team-Hednesford Town, where he was their weekly program writer and player interviewer throughout last season.

Although he agrees that unpaid internships lasting longer than three months and not covering expenses can be classed as a bit unfair,  but agrees that sometimes it is worth the risk, “If you can do it Editors will see that you’re keen, and you then become a regular, who is known and trusted to do work to a high standard. It can lead you to employment. If you plan your travel, eating costs and can use your student loan you can afford to do it. The key is being sensible.”

The future for internships for Lewis? “I plan to complete more placements in the future. I want to go back to the Express and Star. They want me one or two days a week and I’m happy to do it for a year’s worth of experience, which with my freelancing, degree, NCTJ’s and experience makes me standout. You just have to do as much as you can before you graduate. If you do plenty then it shows on your CV. It strengthens your application as a range of contacts are telling an employer to hire you.”

Gem Davidson also got in contact about the positive aspects of unpaid interships. She is currently a freelance reporter and music columnist. She began interning whilst at university, but didn’t see the positive effects straight away…

“I did lots of internships whilst I was at university, but never really got that much out of them. I suppose I was just going through the motions, completing the placement just to put the publication’s name on my cv.  After graduating I decided to try something different and branched out into teaching for a couple of years – big mistake! It became clear that journalism was what I was meant to be doing, but my work experience was now so out of date I needed something more recent.”

Gem decided to write to her local newspapers as she knew that experience was what she needed on her CV. She explained how she wanted to complete her NCTJ and needed work for her portfolio. She was prepared to work unpaid simply to get the experience she needed to succeed in this career.

 “The Buckinghamshire Advertiser was the only newspaper who came back to me, who cover my local area of South Bucks, took me under their wing and offered me some regular freelance work and some time on their news desk. Every day of the placement was a joy, it hardly felt like work at all!

The reporters were all really helpful and encouraging, and offered to take me out on assignments to give me a real feel of what a reporter’s life is like. This time I was determined to get the most out of the placement, so eagerly put myself forward for any job going, no matter how menial. I researched stories, wrote piccaps, and pitched my own ideas, and came out of the week with half a dozen bylines. I was over the moon!

Going back to my full-time job after the placement made me realise just how much I wanted to be a journalist, and it lit the fire under me to get my NCTJ completed and follow my dream!”

Opinions? Do you agree with both Lewis and Gem on the benefits of working unpaid?


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