NYT: Do as We Report, Not as We Do

Remember back in April 2010 when the NYT published this piece, taking a critical look at unpaid interns and whether or not they were even legal? I remember being surprised as I read it, because to say unpaid internships are common in the world of journalism is a massive, massive understatement. Maybe, I thought, the newspaper of record could afford to throw some dollars at college students or recent grads, but its little brothers and sisters across the country certainly couldn’t. Same for TV and radio stations. In fact, the TV station that I interned with (for free, or, technically, for a class credit) was in such desperate need of bodies that they leaned on me pretty heavily and eventually hired me full time when the internship expired. It’s a reality of the world, and I figured that journalists would know this better than perhaps any other profession. But they cut right to the chase in that 2010 story:

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Yikes! Law-breaking! But then again – journalism internships are usually pretty hands on and involved. You don’t see things like this:

At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an N.Y.U. student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu.

That’s pretty bush league. More of the criticism was like this:

Dana John, an N.Y.U. senior, spent an unpaid summer at a company that books musical talent, spending much of her days photocopying, filing and responding to routine e-mail messages for her boss.

Spoiler alert, Dana – this is what jobs are like! Hopefully you know this now, since this story ran nearly two years ago. Hey, I love my job and there’s a lot of tasks like filing, billing and dear god, do I send a lot of routine email. This is the world. We’d do ourselves a service if we stopped building that grade school myth that there is a job out there for everyone that will feel every single second of your day with magical fulfillment and lollipops.

Around the same time, TV veteran John Stossel pointed out that for journalism especially, unpaid internships are vital. People sneered, because OMG LIBERTARIAN JERK, but the point is valid.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering why I bring this up now, in January 2012. Just wanted to let you know you can apply for an unpaid internship at NYT.


(H/T Poynter)

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