To work in the media, a stint of writing for nothing as an unpaid intern is more or less a requirement, as Ruben Andersson, who was in my journalism school cohort at City University, writes in the Guardian today. But who benefits from the internship culture in journalism? Well, that should be obvious:
… interns are taken on for weeks, not months, and free workers come in handy. A recent survey by the National Union of Journalists shows unpaid graduates help keep wage levels down and often plug the gaps left by job cuts.
And of course it saves a lot of money. In a post last year, I noted that according one (now rather outdated) estimate, American business saves $39.5 million per year through unpaid intern labour.
Of course, who can blame them when there is such a huge oversupply of labour willing to work for nothing? Or perhaps the upstart hacks who voluntarily participate in their exploitation are just “irrational, incompetent egomaniacs” engaging in labour market tournaments — that is, seeking entry to a high-risk career that distributes rewards almost exclusively to the elite of the profession. And because working for nothing means incurring more debt or dipping into a trust fund for such luxuries as food, rent and council tax, the internship culture has the unintended effect of making the bottom rung of the career ladder in the media and other creative industries accessible only to those with sufficiently-deep pockets.
Of course, these are just the bitter and guilt-ridden words of someone who provided free copy to Governing and Newsweek magazines as my entrance fee to the tournament.