Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Forget Unpaid: Should YOU Pay To Secure An Internship At A Magazine?

"Used to be, the way to land an internship at a hoity-toity magazine was through tenacity, talent or family connections. Now, in the name of giving, you can bid your offspring into a spot at a national publication."

That quote is from a recent article in the Education section of The New York Times, and it's got me steamed. Apparently, Charitybuzz.com auctions off guest jobs at major corporations -- and fashion and publishing internships, like those at major national magazines (that are naturally in demand by journalism, fashion or technology students) such as Harper's Bazaar or Glamour, can be had for a cool four grand.

Where do I even start? Hmm, how about this: Are magazine internships turning into a sort of freak-affirmative action for the children the Gilded Age?

To step back, the publishing industry -- be it books, glossies or even newspapers -- has always had the push-pull of elitism. Once an industry for roughnecks (especially those newspapers!), now it's the de facto undergraduate (or post-graduate) extracurricular activity, with New York City as a playground for starry-eyed (and well-funded) Ivy League Plus graduates (anything from Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Penn to Amherst, Williams, Vassar and Sarah Lawrence).

Where do top business graduates go? Wall Street.

Everybody else on top? Hello, journalism.

So as unfair as it already seems to be, it strikes me that making the move to auction off internships -- hello, aren't these supposed to be for invaluable and unique experience in the workplace and not fully-funded tail-kissing coffee runs? -- not only runs right in the face of an internship's purpose, but further skews it by making it only available to an overly-competitive helicopter parent (or career-changing professional!) with too much money to blow.

It's already bad enough that most journalism internships -- magazine, newspaper, tv, radio or otherwise -- are unpaid or severely underpaid.

Look, I'm all for charity. Honest. But there are a million things to give away, and only a small handful of internship slots exist at Harper's and O, The Oprah Magazine -- so why must it come to this? Take that $4,000 and start a blog, I say.

(Now, some advice for disenfranchised interns: Tenacity and talent still count, so knock 'em dead. But keep your fingers crossed that your competition doesn't have $4,000 to burn.)


Raquel Laneri said...

Yeah, and people still think America is a land of equal opportunity? Pssh.

This was also interesting (about lack of minorities in publishing), though I wish it had gone deeper in its analysis/exploration.

ke said...

It was hard enough getting an internship while in college (in Los Angeles, where editorial opportunities are divided between a far smaller number of publications). If you think about it, I did pay for my internship (gas, units, time)--because internships are supposed to give you invaluable experience and a leg-up in the professional world.

I couldn't imagine having to compete against someone paying $4,000 for the same spot. The idea makes me sick.

Ex Intern said...

Media is probably one of the most affected sector, but the issue of unfair internships is rampant and increasing. Looks like if your hire is young, you just have to call it an internship and you can get away without paying. I have a blog on this single topic.