Posted on March 31, 2008
Catch-22 in journalism internships
Go to work for 10 or 12 or 15 weeks without any pay.
Give up your ability to work full-time and save money for the coming school year.
Pay rent in two places, if you can’t sublet your costly university-town apartment.
And — oh, yeah — pay for three academic credits (at full price) at your university while you’re doing it.
Like all journalism professors in North America, we tell our students they must, must, must get at least one internship before they graduate.
In a March 21 essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education (republished at the SPJ site), Ben Yagoda (an English professor at the University of Delaware), gives up the straight dope on why our kids have to pay to not get paid.
The gist: Because the news organizations are too damned tight-fisted to pay even minimum wage to college students learning their trade — when it is the news organizations’ own requirement that they will not hire fresh grads who never had an internship — they were violating federal labor laws when they failed to require that the intern was simultaneously signed up (and paying) for college credits.
So nowadays, they require the unpaid interns to be taking internship credits.
I know the news business is in trouble. I know the ad revenues are dropping and the subscriber base is shrinking. But guys, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Many of the kids who cannot afford to take an internship under these conditions are our very best students — the ones you need to save this business. The wealthy ones who can afford it are not always our hardest workers or our most creative thinkers.