Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Internships under fire?

The proper role of interns in the newsroom is a touchy subject. We know. And the line separating supporters and opponents cuts across ideology - two people that never disagree politically will suddenly find themselves at odds over how much work interns should contribute to the newsroom.

So for the moment, we're staying out of it. That said, here's a link forwarded by one of our members.

According to this story in the New York Times, unpaid internships are on the rise, as more companies try to take advantage of the opportunity available in the college labor pool.

Unfortunately, many employers also seem to be abusing the system.

In response, state officials are beginning to crack down on employers that try to skirt the rules in pursuit of cheap labor.

No one keeps official count of how many paid and unpaid internships there are, but Lance Choy, director of the Career Development Center at Stanford University, sees definitive evidence that the number of unpaid internships is mushrooming — fueled by employers’ desire to hold down costs and students’ eagerness to gain experience for their résumés. Employers posted 643 unpaid internships on Stanford’s job board this academic year, more than triple the 174 posted two years ago.

In 2008, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 83 percent of graduating students had held internships, up from 9 percent in 1992. This means hundreds of thousands of students hold internships each year; some experts estimate that one-fourth to one-half are unpaid.

Clearly, mentoring the next generation is good for our industry and good for the next generation of journalists on their way to the newsroom. But is it good if their internships displace fully-skilled professionals, simply as a matter of cost? In the end right or wrong might not matter. According to the government guidelines, it's illegal.

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;

2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees;

3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded;

5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period;

6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

In other words, qualifying as an internship, and not a regular employee position, is more than a matter of sanction by a college or university. The position is intended to benefit the student, not the employer. If anything, taking on interns (a voluntary decision for an employer) should generally comes at a cost to the employer, according to federal guidelines. There are many that would acknowledge this is currently not the case in most newsrooms.

What do you think? Has the use of interns gone too far, or should federal guidelines be revised, so that employers can keep on training the next generation?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was lucky to have both unpaid and paid internships during college. The unpaid internship was supervised by the school and resulted in academic credits. That was the springboard to a paid internship the following summer. The two internships helped build the resume for a decent job after graduation.

It's important to remember that interns may be bright and energetic, but they are basically clueless and need to be closely supervised. They should not be used to replace the professional workforce.