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.

56 Comments on “Catch-22 in journalism internships

  1. It’s quite obvious to me that one of the main goals of journalism these days is to diversify. How can the field possibly be making any progress when the prevalence of unpaid internships eliminates certain groups from the running? Graduates need experience to get the job. They need internships to get the experience. They need to be paid to afford to live. What is happening to students like me who can barely afford college, let alone an unpaid internship? Goodbye diversity…

  2. I agree with you, but as a producer working in TV news, the money is drying up for ANYTHING extra. We are doubling up just from what we did last year. I now produce two newscasts daily when two people were doing that last year. Money for training is out of the budget. Heck! We have even had our coffee cups and plastic forks in the break room cut out. The janitor has been fired. The TV business is not going to add any other costs to the bottom line, no matter how much the business might benefit in the future. People running the show are concerned about today, and trying to even be in business tomorrow. I agree 100% with your point of cutting off the nose in spite the face, but the bottom line is, I’m not sure management is concerned about QUALITY as it is about getting more work done for less money. There is some GREAT NEWS though. As the internet becomes more and more important in the news business, it will become cheaper and cheaper for smart people to become successful online without caring what a corporate boss is thinking about the future of the business. Matt Drudge is an example of this. would not be what it is if it were started in a newsroom. But it has become one of the biggest sources of news in the country for journalists.


  3. I am in this situation at this very moment. When I went to the Bursar’s Office to find that not only will I be paying $755.40 for my Professional Seminar class, but $2141.40 for the nine credit internship. Why am I paying for experience? But here’s the real kicker, I work 40 hours/week and get paid for 10 hours. I have to eat and pay $550 for rent. It is certainly something that needs to be changed.

  4. I am not a writer as you can tell, so please bear with me.

    I found this blog while researching to gain an understanding of internships as I am in need of content for my web sites.

    I refuse to enter into any situation that is not a win win win situation for the student, consumer and me so I am doing my research in an effort to create that.

    You all have valid points. However, some of your opinions are a bit short sited, the carpenter, mechanic plumber… that makes a nice hourly wage typically puts in 10-30 hours a week that is not on the clock. They also need to pay to learn.
    For me I have invested over 17 months of my time in these web sites and paid for the opportunity. I have faith that it will be fruitful. It is where my heart is and I am willing to do it.

    The catch 22 is not exclusive to your trade.

    For the people that have never run a business you need to understand that not every business is capitalized well enough to pay to provide opportunity, in your case to be published.

    Thank you again for the knowledge you have given me via this blog.

    Have a great day and follow the path of your dreams with every conscionable means you discover.

    Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

  5. Pingback: The equipment of this freelance multimedia journalist: How I became a better reporter this Christmas « Christopher Wink

  6. I am 26, been out of college for 4 years. For 4 years I have been barely surviving and being told how I can’t be hired because I don’t have an internship. I have stooped as low as trying to be a secretary or a paralegal, but those jobs have BECOME interns. So the low level slowly work your way up jobs have even become free labor.

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