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Interning- how much nothing can we take?

Andrea may have had a terrible boss when she interns in The Devil Wears Prada but at least she paid her.

This August I will move to London to live on baked beans as I enter the world of unpaid work experience in a city that charges twice the rent I’m paying now and twice the price for the basic human right of drinking water.

Having already had two stints at a newspaper and one at a news agency, I’ll hopefully make the jump to magazines. Whilst listing publications (realistic or otherwise) who might want me to make tea and sit in a sweltering returns cupboard, I came across this statement on Empire magazine’s website:

“Some magazines and newspapers place great stock in a journalism degree – Empire does not. Many of our staff did do a journalism degree but other writers – including the editor – did not. However, a degree in journalism could prove useful, and we are unlikely to employ a writer who has not been educated to degree level.”

This split between the older journalists with no formal qualifications and young ones who have slaved away to graduate is evident in all areas of journalism. Andrew Nicoll is the Scottish Sun’s chief political editor and a prime example. He started off as the tea boy at Dundee newspaper The Courier but did well on an IQ test so they decided to hire him as a journalist instead. He now works from his own office in the Scottish parliament building.

The same newspaper now won’t hire a prospective employee unless they have their NCTJ diploma. They told my college tutor they just throw the application in the bin.

The people who get jobs right away are the lucky ones. The rest of us graduate, like me, to look forward to working for free. And nobody has summed it up better than Times columnist and author, Caitlin Moran:

“Magazines go out of business left, right and centre. Circulation has plummeted since it all went free online but the only people who are working for free or who are supposed to give their stuff away for free are artists.

“It’s what the working classes used to do- you’d form a band, you’d go and be a journalist. That’s how you made your way in the world if you were working class and didn’t have any qualifications.

“We’ve got to the point where the only way you can get a job in the media is by working for free as an intern which makes it once again the privilege of the middle classes.”

I’m working two jobs right now to save for my move to London and luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view), I have a little inheritance money to fall back on should it turn out to be a massive disaster. Most people don’t have the luxury of a back-up.

With so many publications being put out of business, the number of jobs up for grabs is decreasing by the day. It comes down to right place, right time or last man standing.

My experiences of interning sound mild compared with some, but I got two front pages and dozens of articles during my time at the paper and agency. That’s readership and money to them. In return, I had access to free tea and coffee making facilities. Score.

I’m hoping that online magazines like Yuppee are the new back door into journalism. I see more and more publications encouraging writers to send submissions to them. You can write whatever you like, as often as you like. It’s published work and another addition to your CV. Best of all, you don’t have to come up with three to six months of rent and living expenses (but not travel or lunch money- thank the Lord that’s taken care of!)

My boss at my retail job is arranging a transfer for me so in a perfect world, I’ll be selling clothes by day and writing about them by night until I land my dream job. One I’ll be paid for.

2 Comments
  • Nilesh Pandey

    Agree a lot about the split between older journalists and younger hopefuls. Hope it all works out for you, good luck!

  • Adele halsall

    I agree with what you’re saying here. The majority of my 2013 was spent working various placements/internships and whilst i understood at the time that it was necessary in order to gain experience and valuable contacts, eventually I grew tired of being taken advantage of when the people i worked for had absolutely no intention of giving me a job. I’ve since reached the conclusion that unpaid internships are just another form of slave labour – I believe everyone should be paid for their efforts, however small. The sooner the government makes unpaid internships illegal, the better.

    Yours does sound like a great opportunity though and i’m envious of your media experience as it sounds like you’ve done a lot! Best of luck and I hope its all worth it in the end. As long as you know when to draw the line in doing your bit for free and don’t let yourself be exploited, you should be good :)

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