Think of your internship desk as a classroom desk, the author says. An unpaid internship is equal to an education, so paying for it isn’t unreasonable.
Some say that unpaid internships are unethical because interns do work that should, at the very least, provide minimum-wage compensation.
Some say unpaid internships promote a culture of privilege because only the richest are able to participate in such practices while paying the costs of living.
Some critics within the media industry say that companies who use unpaid interns are “ruining journalism.” Recent lawsuits filed against companies, such as Hearst, have challenged the legality of not paying interns.
Contrary to popular opinion, I — a poor college student — do not think unpaid internships are a problem or ruining journalism.
No one wants to work for free. I get it. But we will learn for free — in fact, we’ll pay for the privilege of learning. What’s the difference between learning at an internship site versus learning on a college campus?
I’ve spent more time and effort on certain college assignments than any minimum-wage job I’ve ever held. And I paid for the opportunity.
Let’s take an (unpaid) apprenticeship at a tattoo shop, for example. You can’t just start putting ink to skin without any training.
Similarly, companies take a risk by allowing their interns to gain real-world experience that could potentially damage the company’s reputation. I don’t see why having a human capital threshold (which may or may not be met via unpaid internships) is unethical.
Is it any more wrong for a company to require that people who have work experience staff all positions rather than to require that college graduates staff all positions?
What I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around is the irony of being paid while paying my dues.
I’ve witnessed first-hand the value of an unpaid internship. Last semester, I fought tooth-and-nail to participate in an unpaid internship at Creative Loafing, a weekly alternative newspaper in Atlanta. At the start of the semester, my school told me I couldn’t receive school credit for the internship I was already awarded because I lacked prerequisite journalism courses.
The catch-22: Creative Loafing requires its interns receive school credit.
I would have done it entirely for free and — because I wanted it so badly — actually considered forging the paperwork. Fortunately, after appealing to the school, I was granted an exception.
For the record, I live on my own and pay my own bills. I had to work a full-time job in addition to my unpaid internship and full course load, but it was well worth it.
My internship afforded me networking connections that I will probably have for the rest of my career, clips to add to my resume and an outlet to continue working as a paid freelancer (while I’m still in school).
Unpaid internships offer an invaluable learning experience you cannot get in a classroom. Many of my student colleagues will agree that they’ve got more out of working at their student newspapers (some without pay) than from any journalism class.
Also, I don’t understand how people sign on to an unpaid internship and then have the audacity to demand payment afterward. You knew the risks when you took the job.
In the complaint against Hearst, Xuedan Wang claims to have worked an average of 55 hours a week.
What troubles me about this is that I doubt Hearst — or any company — would require its interns to work more than a 40-hour week or forced interns to work hours beyond the agreement (mine was 12 hours a week).
I worked about 30 hours a week and spent every day during my spring break in the office because I wanted to.
An overlooked fact about Wang is that she’s also suing a jewelry company for similar damages. Speaking of privilege, where is she getting all the money for these superfluous lawsuits (especially considering she worked without pay for so long)?
The thing about an unpaid internship — or education in general — is that you get what you put into it. Most companies don’t have extra labor hours to play schoolmarm to interns.
As a student, you have to be willing to go the extra mile. If, after asserting yourself, all the company wants you to do is grunt work, then drop it like a bad class.
I completely disagree with the idea that unpaid internships are a necessary component for success in any career field. Some say the same thing about Ivy League schools.
Merit and hard work speak volumes. The only true requirement for success is dogged perseverance.
While I applaud the companies who do offer paid internships, it’s known as a supererogatory — good to do, but not bad not to do.
To put it simply, an unpaid internship is no different from an education.
And an education is something worth paying for with your time, your money — or both.
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