This post was written in November 2010. I am now no longer a member of the NUJ. However, my feelings on internships have not changed.
There has always been some discomfort about the idea of unpaid internships, work experience etc. However, in the media they are considered something of a necessary evil.
The NUJ have launched a campaign highlighting the fact that anyone who’s worked as an unpaid intern over the past six years COULD be entitled to minimum wage back pay – irrespective of the terms of the internship at the time. (They make a clear distinction,however, between internships and work experience. Internships tend to be longer and you make a contribution to the company. Unfortunately individuals on work experience often slip into an internship role, if they have anything about them they will do all they can to make a contribution to the company)
I am a fully paid up member of the NUJ but this concerns me.
Yes, companies DO take advantage of unpaid workers but don’t believe that this is entirely a one way street. With so many teenagers heading to university nowadays, and coming out with a range of weird and wonderful degrees, anyone serious about getting into the media can’t rely on a Desmond in Media Studies any more. I actively encourage students to get as much work experience as possible. Not only are they, as I did, putting themselves in a prime position for any vacancies that DO come up, but they are making contacts, learning about the industry and picking up new skills that their university may omit to teach them.
You simply cannot put a price on that.
This added pressure on media companies concerns me because it could …
1. put those who have used interns in the past in a dire financial situation if they had to dig deep and find back pay
2. discourage others from offering internships in the future
Don’t think that companies will immediately start finding money to pay interns in the future, they won’t. It simply means the opportunities will close up and there will be fewer chances to get a foot in the door for the media workers of the future. On the other hand, as I explained above, there is a distinction between Intern and Work Experience. Maybe we’ll see a drop off in internships and a shift to work experience. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing?
I also have concerns when young people complain they do not have time to intern. Yes, they find time to go to football on a Saturday, see their friends a few nights a week and still have time to watch TV, play computer games and sleep.
It comes down to how badly you want it. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of supportive parents. But I do wonder how desperate you are for a role in this industry, if you are not prepared to give up some of your spare time getting experience>
- NUJ steps up campaign to pay interns a fair wage (guardian.co.uk)
- NUJ urges unpaid editorial interns to sue for back-pay (newstatesman.com)