Forget the “transphobic … homophobic” culture at The Herald Sun. While the anonymous account is fascinating, it doesn’t really touch on the real problem with unpaid internships in journalism.
Unpaid journalism internships have caused a fuss overseas as disgruntled former interns have sued their host publications for the minimum wage after being used as free labour.
But the really interesting thing, as Ross Perlin writes in Intern Nation, is how unpaid internships cement the power of wealthy cultural elites.
This is how it works. Internships, especially overseas, involve working for weeks for free while you gain experience. This is usually voluntary, and in return the company spends time and money training you. So far so good. But the person who loses out is the one who can’t afford to work for free – because that would involve giving up paid work.
Journalism is a shrinking industry, and self-publishing (like this blog) is more diverse than ever. But when it comes to the voices that shape politics, they still tend to come from established media sources and magazines.
In May this year, the UK Government’s review of social mobility found only 3% of entering journalists came from families headed by someone who was skilled or semiskilled (i.e. 97% had professional parents) and one in three of Britain’s leading journalists graduated from Oxford. The author of the report said at the time that it showed “the senior ranks of the professions are a closed shop”.
The report singled out internships as partly to blame for this.
“The practice in much of the media industry is more akin to treating interns as free labour. The problem with that is self-evident. It is possible only for those who can afford to work for free. It means that others – perhaps with equal or better claims on a career in journalism – are excluded from consideration.”