Report from an intern at The New Statesman. After being burdened with debt at university, graduates are often lead into unpaid internships. Not only are interns used as free labour due to their precarious nature, but the constant training for work without a living wage means that they are taking a pay-cut in the long term to benefit future employers.
When I started, I knew I was already going to be out of pocket. My train fare exceeded what I would get back from the magazine’s “London travel expenses only” policy. So I was actually paying £10 a day to come in and work. More fool me perhaps, but I thought experience at a national title would be worth the £300 + hit to my bank account.
The interns there had a number of time-consuming but important jobs. The dullest was uploading agency content to the NS website from someone in India who aggregated the contents of the main newspapers as they went live at 12-1am. This job took three editorial interns between 3-4 hours a day to do. It was drudgework. So a number of the articles on the NS website are there for next to nothing, because they pay an Indian a paltry wage to generate the words, which are pilfered from work done by another newspaper, then uploaded for free by an unpaid intern. All this from a left-wing magazine, which frequently calls for social justice, and rails against the iniquities of globalisation.
On I think five occasions I was made to come in at 6am in order to prepare the daily mail shot to subscribers, comprising a daily digest of articles. Again, no byline, no real supervision, but it was a necessary job and it required time, all to the benefit of the business.
Another task was transcription. All interviews while I was there were transcribed by editorial interns. Typing at a fair clip an interview might take an hour or two to get down. Of course, only a tiny fraction of the interview would be used in published copy. But given the resource was free it’s certainly a luxury for a journalist to have a pool of amanuenses to hand.
More generally, the experience itself was a bit of shambles from the first day, with no proper introductions, tour etc. The overriding impression is of a conveyor belt of free labour, doing all the churn work, so paid editorial staff can get on with producing the print copy.
And at the end no exit interview, no feedback, no tips for the future, just a “thanks, bye” and an offer that if I wanted to submit articles, they might publish them online – (again unpaid). It took around six weeks and several rounds of chasing to get my (partial) expenses reimbursed.
But it wasn’t all bad. Editorial interns were invited to the main weekly editorial meeting. We also got to post an occasional article with a byline (online). If you get a full-time job there, the NS seems like a great place to work. The team are generally very friendly, and happy to take a couple of minutes to talk something through. But that’s about it.
My six weeks there were enough to put me off doing any further work experience. Handing more of my own money (and time) over to another media business to help keep them afloat is untenable and manifestly unfair.
I have no doubt that the NS is to a large extent financially reliant on interns. My estimate from having talked to other interns is that around 1/3 of the editorial staff at any one time are unpaid. Not only do they readily do all the necessary drudgework, they help to depress the wages of paid journalists there. In the end only a small fraction of interns get a job.
How can the management of a publication with the New Statesman’s pedigree defend what they are doing? I can’t think of a better media organization to take a lead and start paying interns, or provide them with a sufficiently useful learning experience that they don’t have to.