Monday, 11 October 2010

So, what's it like being an intern for six months?

Received the following posting over the weekend on a story I did about the NUJ saying it was going to try and claim backpay for those who had done unpaid internships. It was anonymous but struck me as an authentic view of the work experience/ internship dilemma facing would be journalists.

"When I set out on my first work experience placement, I was enormously enthusiastic and still had much to learn - indeed, I still am and still do.

"However, I've now completed more than six months of unpaid work placements at a number of the UK's top newspapers and magazines - and there are those out there who have done even more than me.

"And it has to be said that for every positive (welcoming, useful) placement, there are those that are simply unacceptable. Coffee runs are fair enough, as is research and menial tasks. As a top editor reminded me, even he was doing it at one stage. However, I've also been screwed out of bylines so that I don't have to be paid (they ran the content under a staff writer's name), and even been arrested on assignment from one magazine.

"I'll always be the first person in the office and the last one out, yet 90% the time the work goes unheeded.

"What is most surprising is that many of these publications will print intern's work, including byline, and not pay them. This is usually attributed to 'budget' - yet these publications are fine publishing the work of freelancers sat at home in their studies, pyjama-clad at 2pm, whose work is often lazy regurgitation of press release copy.

"There is a fine balance inherent in any internship - value to the journalist, versus value to the publication. If the balance is tipped in favour of the former, then fair enough with the no payment approach (although not paying expenses is utterly inexcusable, yet rife). However, in the current climate the majority of internships swing into the latter category - in which case, many interns are merely unpaid labour, and the NUJ is right to approach it as such."

  • The NUJ 's bid to claim the National Minimum Wage for journalists who have done unpaid work does not apply to students on work experience placements but those who have undertaken internships, which tend to be longer than work experience, with a greater time commitment and deadlines, and involve making a contribution to the work of the organisation.

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