Unpaid Internship?  I Think Not.

It’s no secret.  To get anywhere in journalism or fashion, you have to intern.  Most of the time, you’re doing it for free.  I have six under my belt, all unpaid.  What may surprise you is that I’d do it all over again for free. Hey, we all have to crawl before we walk!   So, with all the drama about the Hearst and Harper’s Bazaar suit on unpaid interns, I thought I’d share thoughts on the pros and cons of working for free. Here’s a column by Ariel Kaminer of The New York Times on unpaid internships.  For the most part, I agree with everything Kaminer mentioned.  What do you think?  To some degree, if you sign up for an unpaid internship, you know what you’re getting into.  What sucks, though, is signing up for something paid and hating it, while being reminded of how much you hate it when you cash your check. Haven’t we all been there before?

Most magazines have picked up on the problem with free labor.  I remember back in 2007, I could maneuver around the “for academic credit only” internships.  I landed an internship just because I wanted experience, and it was never asked if I needed academic credit.  Now, it’s tacked on to almost every listing for an editorial or fashion internship, and for post-graduates, that can be a challenge.  But if you can afford it, why not?  I know plenty of people, me included, that have worked part-time jobs at night or on the weekends to make it happen.  Of course, there are major publishers like Time Inc. that pay their interns handsomely, and in some cases, provide a stipend for housing.  Those opportunities come few and far between for most students and graduates, though.

Here’s what I learned from my past experience.  The perks often outweigh the cons.  I’ve scored some major designer swag, and I’ve never fetched coffee or ran errands at an internship.  I do, however, feel bad for all The Devil Wears Prada interns that never get to write no matter how impressive they are with Starbucks runs and dry cleaning.  Yeah, it sucks to do anything for free.  But I’d take free any day over working a job or for some news organization I could never see myself at permanently.  You’re making money, but you’re also wasting time.  Time you could be spending at the internship you really want, while pouring up drinks or serving food at night to support your dreams.  Sometimes those free internships open up doors to something paid.  I can attest to that right now!

So, as me and my fellow classmates embark on a journey of summer internships, do you think it’s unfair to work students or graduates for free, even if it’s for academic credit?  Or do you think there’s something to be gained from unpaid internships?  What can internship programs do, or what changes can they implement to avoid lawsuits and still provide experience to eager students just wanting to get their foot in the door? What about the harm to other workers when publications get a student to do something for less or for free?

  1. Katie Wood says:

    LOVED this blog post!!! I totally understood what you were saying. I feel like I’ll be an intern for life. Seriously… this will be my SEVENTH internship. Good grief. Cheers to Anniston!

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