Archive for the 'Journalism' Category



A little light slavery never did anyone any harm

Charmingly entitled ‘A little slavery does us all good’, Julia Margo’s article in the Sunday Times, 15th August, sets out the reasons why she thinks we need to increase the number of unpaid internships on offer, rather than get companies to pay their interns. She also entertains us by telling us about the time when she, an erstwhile intern, rocked up to work in a law firm wearing a crop top. Reading the article, I found myself overwhelmed by the quality of prose and incisive analysis on offer but I have to admit the following section is my out and out favourite:

‘While I count myself lucky to have been able to benefit from the inspiring work experience I had, policy wonks are immersed in debate about whether unpaid interns are in fact being exploited. To explore that claim, I spoke to one of the 450 unpaid interns who work in parliament: she said she had gained a lot and didn’t feel exploited at all.’

Oh wow, you spoke to one intern? And she didn’t feel exploited? Thank God for that, now we can be sure that no other interns anywhere in the world feel or are exploited. Obviously I don’t want to be associated with the ‘policy wonks’ (by the way Julia is Acting Director of the think-tank Demos, which is there to do what exactly? Policy wonk.) – but I would like to draw Ms Margo’s attention to the views of the more-than-one-intern who have emailed us and taken our surveys in the past two years. The following are a selection of quotes from our inexperienced, crop top wearing and, let’s be honest, moronic interns:

‘I feel the internship system in the UK is hardly human anymore’

‘I am now cold towards politics as a career’

‘it should be made illegal’

‘the company I worked for were making people redundant and stuffing interns into their positions’

‘I took the internship on the understanding that I would get a job but three months in it is clear that neither me nor the three interns I work with are going to be employed’

‘I learnt new skills but 5 months without pay and 2 months unemployed have made life pretty difficult’

‘this was a sad waste of time’

‘this is the worst thing I have done in my life! I work a 60 hour week, I am petrified of my boss who calls me lazy but I love parliament and I don’t want to quit in case it makes me look bad’

‘it was an utter waste of time’

‘I am sick of this shit’

OK you get the picture.

This isn’t to say that some internships don’t provide skills and don’t allow people to settle into a good work ethic but it saddens me to see unpaid work supported so whole heartedly by someone who should be able to see that economically, socially and even- dare I say it- morally, asking or expecting or allowing people to work for free is wrong.

Turning down the violin soundtrack and ignoring the yelps of bitter, resentful interns- from a practical standpoint work that doesn’t pay can only ever be a stopgap, it solves a problem in the short term, a bit like getting the Dutch kid who used his hand to stem a leak in a dyke to stand there forever instead of getting help. The kid’s arm would get tired and eventually Holland would be in a worse situation.

Let’s look at one of the main problems that internships are supposed to solve:

How do we solve youth unemployment in this country?

Encourage growth, more jobs.

I know I know it’s not as simple as that (maybe it is) but internships DO NOT get people jobs- they, in the words of a particularly witty intern, ‘prove that you’re not in prison’. Jobs get people jobs. Our survey of 249 interns found that 82% of them did not get a job in the organization they interned with. Frankly, we all know what the problem is- there are not enough jobs- we need to look at this issue straight in the eye, like Crocodile Dundee would look at a raging buffalo. Graduates are not getting as many jobs as they should because there are not enough jobs, NOT because they are particularly stupid, under-experienced or crop-top wearing.

You thought I was going to shut up now but it turns out I’m not. Here is another great bit from Julia’s article:

‘The best way to ruin opportunities for thousands of graduates would be to insist that internships are paid. Employers would simply offer fewer placements if they had to pay — they already invest a fair amount of staff time in them. Worse, paying interns would pollute the whole process and ultimately lead to internships being conflated with entry-level jobs, thus excluding exactly the kind of fresh graduates who benefit most from the opportunities. Who would pay a useless graduate when you can hire a recession-hit 25-year-old? I once worked in an organisation that paid its interns. As a result, we recruited through a formal process and took only those with prior experience.

 Re-e-wind:

Paying interns would pollute the whole process and ultimately lead to internships being conflated with entry level jobs’. But wait! Hold up! The trouble is, internships are already being conflated with entry-level jobs. So now they’re entry-level jobs without pay. I don’t normally approve of using one person’s experience as evidence of a general trend but what the hell, if Julia does it, so can I: ‘the company I worked for were making people redundant and stuffing interns into their positions’- said one of the interns who took our survey. 

And now my to address my particular bugbear, slagging off shitty graduates who can’t even make a bloody coffee for god’s sake:

Who would pay a useless graduate when you can hire a recession-hit 25-year-old?

Perhaps a company which, as well as not expecting a 25 year old with commensurate experience to take an entry-level job, would also like to invest in its employees, build up their skills base and create a competent, non-resentful workforce. I guess this is about principles and maybe a little bit about old-school Cadbury’s style corporate paternalism. 

Graduates may be depressingly eager to submit to whatever crap the government and the winds of fate throw at them (top up fees, more top up fees, internships, house prices higher than the moon) but they are not useless. Funnily enough, several paid interns we have talked to report a far better learning experience and a far more positive outcome for both them and the employer. Employers have also noticed an improvement in the quality of their intern’s work when they pay them: this is partly for obvious reasons (money grabbing graduates are only happy, effective workers when they can buy booze and drugs) and partly because employers care about money, so if they are spending it, they will make sure they teach the intern what they need to know, give the intern clear tasks or projects and help the intern throughout this process.

I once worked in an organisation that paid its interns. As a result, we recruited through a formal process and took only those with prior experience.

The experience conundrum is a difficult one but to pretend that it doesn’t apply to internships as well as jobs is madness. Let me take a look at w4mp, artsjobs, charity jobs and see if I can find an internship that demands experience. Oh look! I found two that specifically demand experience, here and here. The second organisation would like ‘someone with experience and/or a good understanding of the legal business, preferably with a law degree, interested in improving their understanding about the global legal community and to develop relationships in the industry’. And you can safely bet money that the huge demand for internships mean that despite a lack of explicit demand for experience, you will need experience to stick out from the crowd, unless of course your boyfriend’s mate works for a national newspaper.

‘The 2010 “non-graduate talent pool” (made up of 50% of the youth population) is, of course, extremely unlikely to find any work experience at all. But the government offers basic skills training to help them find rubbish jobs stacking boxes, so that’s okay.’

I am not one to stick up for government policy so why change the habit of a lifetime: patently two wrongs do not make a right. Unemployed school-leavers are facing the same conditions as the rest of us- this doesn’t mean I support the promotion of unpaid internships for graduates. Once again I am going to be incredibly demanding- jobs for all of us! All of us! We all want jobs and we want them now!

Now, I don’t pretend to be Miss Popularity but at least I know more people than Ms Margo who has never met anyone who cannot afford to work for nothing:

‘I have yet to meet a graduate who genuinely cannot afford to work for nothing: sleep on a friend’s floor and work in a bar in the evening, for goodness’ sake.’

In 5 seconds I can think of at least 5 people I know very well who wouldn’t have been able to afford an internship for more than a month, and I am not sure whether my parents (in my case, London based) would have been up for 5 of my friends sleeping on the sofa, for goodness’ sake! (By the way if you put a quaint expression of exasperation at the end of the sentence, people are more likely to suck it up and believe what you say) Also can I just ask why pubs should constantly be supporting graduates through their career search?

Thousands of graduates do this without complaint. As for non-graduates and those from poorer families, these are excluded not by cost but by the snobbery of employers.

Finally something I semi-agree with. But I can assure you that people are excluded from internships as a result of their cost and not living in London, as well as by the  snobbery of employers. The existence of one excluding factor does not preclude the existence of the other. Mind blowing, I know.

‘While debate rages on over whether unpaid interns are exploited or lucky, there is no question as to whether employers benefit: our economy is now secretly running on intern power. What we actually need to do is to increase the number of internships being offered, rather than make companies pay.’

If the economy is indeed secretly running on intern power (well it’s not such a secret in the case of Demos- the think-tank which Julia is currently directing) then what does that say about our society? That we value our young people so poorly we demand that they work for free, something that is anathema to most sane people; that whilst praying for the economy to grow, we are actively stunting it by restricting ‘thousands’ to a pittance that they will then spend on…Sainsbury’s basics beans? Just what is the point of increasing the number of internships when all that would lead to is graduates having to step up the number of internships they did to stand out? By increasing the expectation of unpaid work, all you do is discourage paid work, which is- let’s not forget- one of the pillars of a successful economy.

What do you think? Have I gone crazy or is Julia Margo crazy? (Judge for yourself- when we have sorted out rights and posted the article- Sunday Times needs a subscription and we don’t want to make them mad).

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Save BBC Blast

Journalist Laura Snapes has written a great article on her blog about why BBC Blast, a paid work experience scheme, should be saved from the corporations cost-cutting axe.

It gives opportunities to young people right across the country to make their first steps in journalism… and no doubt played a founding role in landing Laura her dream job at NME.

This is what she has to say about her experience:

In May 2005 I was appointed BBC Cornwall’s Blast Reporter, which entailed spending the summer running my own section of the BBC Cornwall website. I interviewed bands, jewellery designers and the inventor of the first biodegradable surfboard, took photos of the Eden Sessions and played at being a real journalist for the summer. The same scheme went on in the majority of the BBC’s local newsrooms. With our sections being primarily arts-based and aimed at fellow teenagers, our duty as reporters was to file at least one article and diary entry per week in exchange for rigorous BBC training in internet content management systems, professional recording equipment, and safety procedures.

And this on the real impact of the BBC decision:

… the people who will miss Blast – in particular its work experience placements and free event and workshop tours – are a group chronically underserved by commercial media, which is in complete antithesis to the BBC’s justification for proposing various closures on account of intruding on the competition. That group includes young people in geographically remote areas, away from the London-centric media world – regions like Cornwall, where there are very few other opportunities for teenagers to get experience in the limited local press that exists here. It includes kids whose parents/aunties/godfathers aren’t industry highflyers, able to wangle their progeny work experience placements on account of the family name; kids who wouldn’t make it to Oxbridge – still renowned for giving applicants a leg-up into the Beeb – but who nonetheless have incredible skills to offer. Blast is open to kids from any social background, making them feel comfortable in a very middle class industry, and the application process is the same as any fair, equal opportunities job application – proving that you’re worthy of the job because of your enthusiasm and achievements.

Why would the BBC be cutting BLAST at a time when job opportunities for young people are so limited and the current internship culture so often benefits those with money or geographically based in London? Also why did 6 Music get so much attention and this didn’t! Read the full article here. And if you tweet (we really should more.. then join the twitter campaign here).

Jobs in Journalism

To complement our post below… we are going to link to an article on the careers advice website Graduate Fog. ‘How to get a job in journalism?’… even if you can’t afford to work for free.

See here.

Just say thank you

There’s a shrine in the corner of my room, a collection of passes from all the newspapers I’ve ever done work experience in. I used to flick through them, trying to remember what I learned from each placement: how they’ve moulded me into a better reporter, the silly mistakes, the small triumphs. I used to be proud of them: they were trophies which marked the weeks of unpaid toil. Used to.

I’ve been trying to be a journalist since I was 17. I’m now 22. That’s five years of friends tolerating my idiosyncratic habit of reading five different national newspapers every day, and spending my summers and holidays in newsrooms (invariably without windows, why is that?).

But guess what? Trying hurts. I’m not going to stop, but it hurts. Work experience hurts. “Internships” hurt.

Rejections hurt. You will get rejected – knocked back, even for free work, as well as graduate schemes and jobs. Heartfelt emails will go unanswered, submissions ignored or outright declined (It took me a week to get over the first “No. Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device”). If you’re trying to be a journalist, chances are at some point you’ll have your heart broken by a newspaper.

Continue reading ‘Just say thank you’

Clean the Fridge

I graduated last summer and I want to be a features journalist on a mag. I didn’t know this straight away so I did work experience in marketing, online advertising and PR – hating them all. The online advertising agency was advertised on the Graduate Talent Pool, when I showed up it was a dusty little office above a SPA offy – this was in winter and it didn’t even have radiators! It paid expenses, I’ll give them that much. Then the PR agency was in a small office in Covent Garden, with four people and an office dog. All I did was send outs and returns, which was not how the internship was advertised, so I quit on the Friday as I wasn’t benefitting from it at all, and they tried to not give me my expenses as I hadn’t given them enough notice of my leaving and had ‘left them in the lurch’.  Whilst I was there they actually asked me to clean the fridge…thankfully that was the Friday, and I never went back. 

So then I was decided on journalism, and headed for the big titles. After hundreds of CVs being sent out I landed placements in five prestigious titles. I’ve learnt that entry-level editorial positions go to the intern that is there at the time when the current editorial assistant leaves/gets promoted. However most magazines have interns booked in on a monthly basis sometimes years in advance, so remaining in one place as the intern is virtually impossible. Therefore I’ve been ‘mag-hopping’ for months, and am no closer to that elusive Editorial Assistant position.

The public needs to be made aware of the way companies are using their interns as free labour. Just today I was offered a 3-month placement with a tabloid newspaper following my application for editorial work experience. The placement was an administration position, NEXT TO the news desk – so “hopefully you may get the chance to write something”, and paid £5 a day “to cover expenses”. Unless I lived in zone 1, which no graduate does, this would never cover my expenses. Anyway, I’m pretty much looking into getting a random job outside of journalism now as the fight to get into it is so so tough, and you need a thriving bank account to support you while you pursue it!

Fashion in a cupboard

I have a story from working on a newspaper supplement…

It was a national newspaper and the first thing that struck me was that they couldn’t cover my travel costs, so not only was I working 10-5 for free, I was actually making a loss.

I was working in a fashion cupboard. I heard from another intern working there that the job we were doing actually used to be a paid position and was therefore much more efficiently run. With little guidance I was expected to just ‘get on with it’ in a windowless and people-less room and with little to no help from the people I worked for.

Clothes that I had never seen and were ordered in before I arrived were lost, but did they try to help me? Of course not, I was left to deal with the problem and fob off some PR company.

Whilst most of the people working there were pleasant one woman had a holier than thou attitude and got annoyed with me for putting something in the wrong place despite the fact that the bossier, know-it-all intern had told me to do it. I knew she was annoyed by her monotone ‘that’s…quite…annoying…’ comment.

I can also echo another piece on your website about fashion people claiming to be overworked. I find they hardly do anything. I can’t imagine how they would cope in the real world where they would be overseen by a boss who might put a stop to their frequent mundane chit chat and cigarette breaks. You chose 10 pairs of shoes to be photographed against a blank screen by someone else? I can think of nothing less stress inducing.

Crazy crazy shoes

From the Observer.. Graduates: a problem in four parts

Tanya de Grunwald has written a great article:

Have you noticed how swiftly online discussion about the UK’s “graduate problem” descends into a slanging match, even on civilised websites like this one? Mention “Mickey Mouse degrees” and watch students, lecturers and employers scratch each other’s eyes out. Everyone gets worked up but nothing is ever worked out. Journalists seem no clearer on the true cause of the problem they’re reporting. It’s the surge in the number of graduates. No, it’s rising tuition fees. Or the recession. Or unpaid internships. Or that we have somehow raised an entire generation of arrogant, grabby young things who don’t know the value of a day’s work. Er, what was the question again?

Her argument is thus:

  • Students think of univeristy as an investment to get them a job
  • Universities see themselves as facilitators of academic study
  • Employers think university should equip people with key skills to do jobs (“They refuse to hire candidates who aren’t work-ready, hence the unpaid internships.”)

And finally…

  • Politicians see the grand picture of an educated workforce equalling a strong economy.

She concludes:

In my opinion, students should take a more active role in determining their future – and employers should return to hiring graduates on potential rather than experience. Universities should stop running degrees they know have no real value – and completely overhaul their careers advice services. Politicians should support payment for internships and keep tuition fees as low as possible until we can all promise school pupils that yes, going to university is definitely a good idea. With a fresh batch of 470,000 students set to finish their undergraduate studies this summer and a further 205,000 completing postgraduate courses, we have no time to lose.

We couldn’t agree more.

NB: She also runs a great website full of graduate career advice. Check it out here.


Interns Anonymous

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