Some months back, my journalist friends and I noticed a trend with “internships.”
It was at the height of recession fear-mongering. Media agencies were dealing with their own financial reaction to the economy alongside the shift from traditional journalism to the web, desperately scrounging for revenue through new sources. So everyone was getting laid off. Everyone! I got laid off, of course, early on. I watched as friends started emailing back and forth seeking work. And I watched as the journalism job options dwindled, or rather, the job hunter market grew very saturated with journalists. The competition was a bit too fierce and intimidating for myself and others I knew who’d only been out of j-school for a year or so. I was lucky to have a little bit of experience from my communications position and my student days as a keener with the extracurricular work. However, I was no match for the journalists with 10, 15 years of experience getting laid off from their leading roles at major magazines and websites.
So I stuck it out, but the prospects weren’t so good. Everyday, I would open the paper (I had so much more time to read every news source out there!!:P) and see that more editors and writers had been let go. From sources like Playback Mag and Twitter, I was being inundated with jarring facts: corporations were letting go of their writers and editorial teams and contracting interns! Interns, who deserved jobs and pay as much as the next guy. Interns, who hadn’t built the tenure that those laid off writers had built. It was a sorrowful thing–the intern would want the experience, thinking this would be their ‘in’ or the next step before their ‘in’, get bitter about not being paid, and feel guilty about stealing a job from under the laid off writer’s nose. But who really won in that situation? Nobody. Neither the intern nor the established journalist.
It was really disappointing to see all the ‘internships’ on job sites popping up around this time, from October 2008 to about May 2009. Now, as I check the job sites, I see that there are less internships around, though some major corporations are still trying to milk the out-of-work younger journalists for whatever they’ve got. Though I definitely believe internships are valuable learning experiences and important not just for the resume but for skill-building, I also think some companies go too far with them. I learned a LOT from my internship and do not regret it one bit. I didn’t expect a job out of it, but I knew I’d be due for a hefty ROI:) Unfortunately, I’ve heard of other journalists that have simply up and left the field because of their lack of paid work paired with an unavoidable ability to land unpaid or meagerly rewarded internship work. I heard of one girl who bartended while doing 5 years worth of internships and finally quit in a huff, breaking down at the office of one of her many internships. I don’t know what she decided to do instead. Another friend completed an internship and soon after, having not found work in Toronto, rejected all forms of “intern” “shit” as she dubbed it, and left the country. Abroad, she landed full time work in the media shortly thereafter.
Some go into PR, but lately, I wouldn’t say PR is hiring in abundance either. Personally, I’d be super-duper down for PR and can’t see why so many journalists knock it. Provided it wasn’t corporate PR, I’d be very happy representing different arts, culture and lifestyle events and products. Sadly, PR has a bad reputation amongst journalists, who only see it as a bunch of evasive wordplay. I think it depends on the project.
I always said there should be rules on internships and that companies should be forced to pay at the VERY least a small honorarium. People often pay out of their own pocket for this ‘experience,’ with things like transportation and food packing on the bills. I think it’s already hard enough to pay bills without a job, let alone with a non-paying full time one!