It feels a little strange to be writing an editorial about unpaid internships as a journalism student because unpaid internships are basically a rite of passage for young reporters breaking into the field.
I completed a month-long unpaid internship in December, and will be doing another one in April as part of my program.
But that will be my last one, I swear, and that brings me to my point: Know your worth, and know when you have to simply say no to working without pay.
Those who advocate for unpaid internships say it’s worth it for the experience. Those against say it’s simply exploitative – one should be paid for the work one does. Then there are others who argue that internships are only for the privileged – some people simply can’t afford to work for free for weeks (or months) on end.
There is some truth to all these arguments, and it often depends on the situation.
Exploitation vs. opportunity
Having to work 50-hour weeks and overtime without pay? Definitely exploitative.
But having the opportunity to work in your future career field and receive mentorship for a few weeks? That’s a different story.
That’s the argument I and my fellow journalism students make: we’ll do unpaid internships and write freelance pieces without payment, but with the knowledge that it gives us a byline, the opportunity to get to know editors, and hopefully leads to a paying job later.
After April I will avoid doing another unpaid internship. I’ll have a certificate in journalism, and two month-long internships, and that will have to be good enough.
Internships come at a cost
I simply can’t afford to keep working for free. I have rent and other bills to pay.
Too many young people with good qualifications are willing to work for free for extended periods of time. Many are already carrying student debt, and only driving themselves deeper into the red. Some companies are starting to abuse the system and use interns to pad their bottom line.
To stop this, we twenty-somethings have to ask ourselves when an internship is exploitative and when an internship is actually beneficial.
Know your worth, and don’t settle for less.
Reported by Gavin Fisher