The internship debate

I am curious what our students make of the arguments in this piece:

Unpaid Interns, Complicit Colleges –



The uncritical internship fever on college campuses — not to mention the exploitation of graduate student instructors, adjunct faculty members and support staff — is symptomatic of a broader malaise. Far from being the liberal, pro-labor bastions of popular image, universities are often blind to the realities of work in contemporary America.


Here in the SJMC, we’ve worked with employers many times, trying to fashion internships with compensation or where it was not possible, a robust experience that paid off later. Our alumni have helped with this effort, as well, through such things as funding the Sharon Stark Investigative Internship at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But I’d like to hear from students. What do you make of the arguments? What have been the strengths and weaknesses of your paid and unpaid internships?

7 thoughts on “The internship debate

  1. I’m willing to be a slave for the right internship. Good internships are rare and I didn’t get into the journalism for the money. I plan on marrying a sugar momma so I don’t have to worry about this kind of exploitation when I’m waist deep in student loans…

  2. After an unsuccessful job hunt after college, I decided to look for an internship. I had 4 internships during college! But with a tough economy, you have to take what you can get. I firmly believe that taking an internship is a great idea because it shows future employers that you’ve been employed rather then sitting on the couch.

    I love my internship and it helps in networking for future jobs and helps me build on my experience and portfolio. It’s paid, but it’s minimum wage.

  3. This is a difficult debate. While I agree that internships provide invaluable experiences and connections that could lead to future jobs, the labor side of the debate should not be ignored. My first internship paid a small monthly transportation stipend, while my parents picked up the cost of dorm housing and tuition for the internship credit that was required as part of my internship. I think the argument that well-to-do individuals are propelled further by unpaid internships while those who cannot afford them are left in the dust is absolutely valid and one that should be taken seriously by employers.

    Additionally, in the large debate over unions and collective bargaining, I can’t help but think about the people who lost jobs during the recession, only to have their tasks picked up by unpaid or low-paid interns. I was one of those interns who came into a newsroom after it’s staff was slashed in half. It’s hard to think about now, but where will that leave me 20 years down the road, when my skills are inevitably dated?

    After four back-to-back internships, I have no doubt that each one was vital to landing me a job. Internships should be a valuable training ground for young professionals, but they should eventually lead to a job, not an endless string of internships.

  4. After my current internship taking away my wages I feel very passionate about this debate. The current internship I hold has had a system in place giving interns the first semester unpaid and the semesters after that paid. Currently on my second semester (which is paid) I was informed they would no longer pay me or any incoming interns. This semester holding a paid internship allows me to carry more credits at the University because I don’t have to work on the side. This summer I will have to get a job on top of my internship to support myself. It is unfortunate because I will be doing the same work for the same amount of time but now I am denied the money.

    Internships have greatly influenced my experiences in the communication field and I think are highly regarded on applications I fill out. I of course do not expect to be paid for my work as an internship and this type of mind-set isn’t rare with students. Getting your foot in the door is my priority for holding an internship, money or credit is just a bonus. However, not all internships open doors. In response to the NY Times article, “Colleges have turned internships into a prerequisite for the professional world but have neither ensured equal access to these opportunities, nor insisted on fair wages for honest work,” I think if a particular school/program of the University stresses internships they should also challenge companies/businesses to provide some sort of compensation for interns. That or charge students a discounted price for the credit earned from unpaid internships.
    In closing, I agree with Becky in that internships should “eventually lead to a job, not an endless string of internships.”

  5. A useful exercise in this debate may be browsing through the J-School’s information re: internships:
    (Scanning the website and diving through various links serves as another unfortunate reminder that our vaunted School of Journalism & Mass Communication rarely updates its website. Aren’t we supposed to be on the cutting edge of the digital frontier? So glad that internship deadlines are listed for the 2009 year…)

    So, one of the three internships the J-School “works directly” with is unpaid. Ross Perlin says what I’m thinking best:

    “Colleges shouldn’t publicize unpaid internships at for-profit companies.”

    What do I make of this argument? Schools that advertise unpaid internships are complicit in encouraging shady labor practices. The careerist-thinking goes these days that to break into your field, you’ve got to work at least one, unglamorous, unpaid internship. But why? Because schools, by posting internship listings that offer no compensation, enable companies to withhold pay from eager, ambitious undergrads. The New York Times can still draw from a broad applicant pool despite their unpaid internship offerings, because communications programs will tout the benefits of grade-a journalistic experience (doubt it? Look through the e-mails you get from department faculty and advisors. e.g., “[Undergrads] DEADLINE ASAP: NYT comment moderator job”)

    There is also something inherently classist about this practice. Perlin’s final paragraph drives this point home:

    “While higher education has tried to stand for fairness in the past few decades through affirmative action and financial aid, the internship boom gives the well-to-do a foot in the door while consigning the less well-off to dead-end temporary jobs. Colleges have turned internships into a prerequisite for the professional world but have neither ensured equal access to these opportunities, nor insisted on fair wages for honest work.”

    How might two students, with different socioeconomic backgrounds but shared career ambitions, respond to an unpaid internship offering? This question answers itself.

    One question that remains unanswered? What do our J-school professors and advisors think about the article? Surely their perspective would yield greater, behind-the-scenes insight into the debate.

  6. I could not have landed my current job without the training I received during both my unpaid and paid internships. My first unpaid internship provided me with the video and online skills that landed me a paid internship and eventual job.

    However, I believe that the worth of an internship depends heavily on the place a person choses to intern as well as the effort that person puts into it. As someone who now oversees and trains (paid) interns, it becomes quite obvious to an employer whether an intern is looking to learn and develop skills or if that same intern is merely looking for another line on a resume.

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