Posts Tagged 'Journalism'

Internships and PhDs in the humanities: notes from the USA

This article was written by Sofia Rasmussen, who has written a lot of great stuff about PhDs, internships and jobs – this gives us an idea of what interns experience in the USA

Not all internship experiences will be great. In fact, most won’t be. Sure, it’s a line on a resume, something to bolster your academic career or add legitimacy to your online phd programme and maybe you’ll get hands-on experience in the field you hope to make permanent someday. But, with properly tempered expectations, participants can and will make it through them. Know that the average internship is underpaid, if paid at all, and those The Devil Wears Prada horror stories are based in reality. Interns are treated poorly, looked down on, stuck in mail rooms and warehouse positions with little to do with the actual industry.

An intern at Anne Bowen, who would prefer to remain nameless, reflects on her experience, “As design assistant, I had the honor of working very closely with Anne herself. On a day to day basis, I was expected to cater to her every whim (which included dropping everything at any time to do what she deemed as more important), clean up her dog’s droppings from the carpet, and change light bulbs, all while single-handedly managing any and all production and making sure deadlines were met and dresses were beaded.” For a student planning a career in fashion, it’s hard to see what true knowledge is gained by changing light bulbs and cleaning up after a dog.

A grad student who goes only by Jane said of the internship program in clinical psychology at  Alliant National University, “The APA internship match rate is a joke. You will not get a decent job after completing 5 years of doctoral training here. Plus you may never graduate because they abuse and dismiss students. Some of the programs have a 50% attrition rate too.” This is one of the biggest internship problems: despite long hours and hard training, you’re no closer to your career than you were before you stepped through the doors.

Gawker was privy to a leak from the New York Sun’s Guidelines for Interns:  “Internships will be terminated for any intern who, between 6pm and the end of the press run, fails to answer calls to his or her mobile phone for more than 30 minutes. It is therefore recommended that subway rides of more than 30 minutes be avoided.”

That’s not a dramatization of the intern experience at the New York Sun; it’s an element of the internship that the magazine freely admits. The magazine also warns interns in their manual that any intern who even asks about a byline, let alone complains, will be terminated. Not really any impetus to stick with a career in publishing.

It’s no secret that a bad interning experience can break a potential career. Though some internships do turn into full time job offers, and there are dozens of companies with great internship programs that an intern would be happy to take long term, it’s important to view the average internship as a learning experience. Have hope! Even the worst internship comes with one huge plus: when you go into an interview, and you’re asked about the worst working conditions you’ve ever had, you’ll have an answer. And a solid one at that.

Eastern promise: interning abroad can be a better option

I just want to share my internship/job experience working for NGOs in the Middle East…I know this is quite a specific field, but my story has some relevance to many of the issues you are discussing.  I have a vague ambition to work in International Human Rights, specifically with regards to the Middle East, and decided to take a year out of my degree and come to Cairo for a year to get some work experience.

Here, I had the rather shocking experience of, after a month, getting a salary from my current NGO, who insisted if I was working I had to be paid.  Soon later, I got a contract, as I asked for job security so I could plan my year properly. As you could guess, many NGOs in the developing world struggle with funding and have nothing like the resources available to private sector companies back in London.  (The coordinator for my organization hasn’t been able to give himself a salary for the past couple of months, making do with money from other consultancy work he does.) Yet many organizations here still manage to pay their interns/and or hire fresh graduates.  I have other graduate friends who are working or interning with NGOs in the region, who are even provided with accomodation. (My journalist friends, interested in foreign affairs, have had similar experiences here, being paid for their work and interning in English language newspapers, and due to the comparative lack of competition in Cairo, they have had work about the city published in national newspapers in London.)

In contrast, I have many friends back in London who have degrees, and masters.  They have been interning for human rights groups, think tanks and NGOs for months without pay, working in bars to sustain a living.  To those friends, and others who want to work in international development, I’d say brave the unknown and leave London and get experience on the ground for a few years.  You’ll find you’re presence is much appreciated, and it often shows in pay, actual job titles and respect.

I’d also say to those who want to work in international development, not to look for jobs on the internet from home, but to save up money for flights, take a risk and go out there.  Native English speakers are always in demand, and particulary in unstable countries where a lot of foreigners leave, internships often lead to job offers.  My organization and all my other NGO worker friends say they never look at applications coming from outside Egypt, due to a) the hassle of organizing interviews and b) the very real possibility that although an applicant might like the idea of working in the Middle East, in reality many people find the life difficult and quickly leave.  It is also crazy to take internships in developing countries that you practically have to pay for, i.e. volunteer tourism.  Again, I stress, if you actually get out there, there are many many organizations who would love to have someone work for free for them.  There is simply not the same internship culture to compete with.  I have now been offered a permanent job, but it is with regret, I will have to return to England to study…and continue my work experience unpaid, doing things that after a year of an intense job, I feel slightly overqualified for.

I just find it insane that most local NGOs here at least pay stipends to their interns, but back in London, organizations apparently can’t afford to.  Yes, there is a difference in living expenses; my £350 a month allows me to get by in Cairo, but even that amount would be better than nothing in England. I guess benefits to interns in other parts of the world comes from a society which finds the thought of unpaid work pretty confusing. And I think this is mentality we should re-adopt.

Women’s mags: not all lip gloss and smiles

I have been interning at a variety of magazines since graduating from university last year. Currently I’ve been seeking internships in women’s mags as that is my chosen field. It’s a really competitive area, but when I managed to land a 5 week placement with a well-known mag – ohmygod so excited! I knew the name would look great on my CV. I was super excited but that excitement quickly wore off once I got there.

My first day, I was eased in. Logged in the new beauty products that had come in for the team, called and e-mailed some PRs about samples and press releases and the (never done before) activity of getting the lunch for the boss. I know as an intern I’m expected to do the dirty work, do the things the paid can’t be bothered to do but really? I was interning in a building which happens to have an assortment of food places situated at the bottom – several floors down. It would have taken her FIVE minutes to get in the lift, walk out the door and into the take-away but nope, instead she handed me £10 and asked me to buy her some lunch. I was cool with that, thinking it was a one off – it happened again the next day too.

Now the beauty team claim to REALLY need an intern, they are supposed to be an important part of the team. First of all, my desk was nowhere near the teams, I was given no temporary e-mail, had to use my own personal one which created problems at later dates when contacting PRs. The team were nice enough but the work…there wasn’t much.  At a push, I was busy for half to 3/4 of the morning with logging the new products and then would have to spend most of the day asking for something to do.

During the time I actually spent with the team I asked to leave early on a few occasions – once because of the riots, another for a family member’s birthday and I was REALLY sick in my third (and final) week. They knew I wasn’t feeling too hot, but they didn’t care. I was told I couldn’t leave early on a Wednesday (it was blatant I wasn’t well and shouldn’t have really gone in but I did still) until I had finished everything. I finished as much as I possibly could and was finally allowed to leave at 3pm – not really worth it but I was home and in bed by 4:30pm. I called in sick for the Thursday as I wanted to get better but when I e-mailed my superior to say I was feeling rough, I received an angry reply about how I’d had too much time off and asked to send over the information for some props for a shoot – not ‘hope you feel better, see you Friday.’

I didn’t even rest on that day as I was on the phone trying to find a prop, which was much harder to find than anticipated. The Beauty Director finally e-mailed me at 4pm to say ‘don’t worry, we have some – for free.” WHAT, I’d spent the entire day on the computer and phone, not sleeping and resting to battle my cold. 

The Friday morning I came in to a desk piled up with products – completely unnecessary to be honest. They could have neatly put all of the new bags to one side of my desk but they had just thrown them all over the chair and computer area which meant I had to spend the first ten minutes of my morning cleaning up the desk so I could actually GET to my computer. The team arrived gone 10am and I was promptly asked to go downstairs to get a Starbucks for one of the writers – a Starbucks she would have just walked past. I spent the afternoon of that Friday doing absolutely nothing, I’d asked around 5 times for something but there was nothing.

The icing on the cake was that the director strolled into the office at 5:30pm after being on a shoot all day and interviewing a celebrity. Instead of talking to me, she was met by one of the fashion team where they tried on some new shoes for a wedding and gossiped about the celebrity etc – during office hours. The previous day the director had asked to chat with me, now if it was something important you might put it higher on your list than trying on your Jimmy Choos and gushing about your wedding next year!

I left the office gone 6pm as I had just been sitting idly for the previous two hours, waiting to talk to my superior. She was busy chatting about a famous singer so I didn’t see it my place to interrupt an important conversation…I checked my e-mail that Friday evening to find I had been fired. She had emailed me at 7:30pm to say I had made dozens of mistakes (she only gave one example), that I had asked to leave early too many times (3 times over 3 weeks) and in general I wasn’t enthusiastic or hard working enough. 

I was GUTTED. I take my placements as a job, professional and I always do my best. She hadn’t bothered to even say hello to me when she eventually strolled in yet I was being told I was the one not making an effort? She had even made it seem like I was trying to steal expensive products form the cupboard (wouldn’t even imagine doing such a thing). I replied to her e-mail that night but guess what? It’s been nearly two weeks and she hasn’t contacted me. I had to phone the assistant in the end to get some answers – I didn’t think you could really be booted from an internship for not being chatty enough. 

I would love to warn people about this person but unfortunately I can’t do it on my own blog without sabotaging my future career. If I had been making obvious mistakes then why had no one informed me before? I have always thought that internships are for learning and to be taught but I wasn’t taught anything. The only thing I’ve come away with is my confidence in a pile of rubble. They didn’t help me in the slightest and I just needed to get this out there!

 

Interns should get what they want or else walk out

An anonymous contributor sent us the following article – the title might have unpleasant connotations but the intern in question is talking about getting a positive experience that will boost your CV…rather than a flat screen TV

As a complete nobody hailing from the arse-end of Nowhere, I empathise with those looking to do an internship, particularly those looking to get into journalism, public affairs and politics.

The principle of getting up in the morning and doing a full day’s work, often for protracted periods and for the sum total of zero pence is now so firmly entrenched in our economy that companies will factor in interns and rotate them as though they were permanent staff. The employer knows full well that there is no job for the poor sucker at the end of it, but the prize is dangled before them anyway. It can be soul destroying. But, done right, interning can also be fantastic. Allow me to elaborate.

 After graduating from university, I took on a piss-poor admin job. My boss was, to coin a swear, a knobjoy and the pay was appalling. Happily, the business folded and I found myself gainfully unemployed. With a few pennies (though not many) set aside, I decided I had nothing to lose and, accepting the dire state of the jobs market for mediocre arts graduates, threw myself into interning.

I haven’t eaten since, but I’ve met some genuinely lovely people, proved that I can dress myself, and gained experience that simply wouldn’t have been open to me if the internships hadn’t been there. That’s not to say, of course, that the experience hasn’t wildly differed with each employer. As with the real world, there are both terrible employers and fantastic ones, and the lot of the intern, in my view, rests on the understanding and dedication of the employer in making your time worthwhile.

My first internship was a two-week stint with a national newspaper. As I’ve said, I’m no one of any note, so a place on a paper seemed like a dream. I knew I would bankrupt myself, but it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down. Told to turn up in ‘smart casual’ and to ‘read up on my current affairs’, I expected to enter a professional working environment filled with vibrant, enthusiastic staff ready to make use of my in-depth knowledge of politics and forensic analytical mind.

 In reality, of the one and a half weeks I spent there, about three hours were spent doing anything of use. I didn’t have a desk, any tasks or indeed any kind of introduction to the permanent members of staff, things often seen as prerequisites for, y’know, helping a company in any way. I loitered like a cheap whore around the desks of writers I’d previously admired and fired out plenty of suggestive e-mails seeing if my services were required. Alas, it was not to be, and with each expenses-unpaid day I felt less and less like a human being.

Yet, while it would be easy to sob into my Tesco-own cereal (we interns dream of Jordan’s Crisp) about this state of affairs, I actually found the whole experience empowering. Seeing a disorganised sinking ship of a paper laid bare before my eyes shattered a certain myth in my mind about journalism. The knowledge that I was still young, (reasonably) clever and qualified and that this particular paper had stuck two fingers up to my offer of free labour, felt perversely liberating. As each wasted hour on Twitter ticked by, I figured it was actually their loss. In the end, I stopped turning up to the internship. No one even noticed I’d gone, while their inability to remember my name means I still get a reference, and don’t look back.

My next internship was definitely a gamble. But by financially ruining the people I love, and through a combination of putting on a posh voice and exaggerating my limited achievements, I somehow wound up as an intern for an established radio station. The new internship felt less like an extended, demeaning tour of an office and more like an actual, useful work placement. I was still earning nothing, but from day one I had a gut feeling that I would come away from the experience immeasurably more employable. Unlike the paper, I’d been sat down to a formal interview, been given a desk, a proper company e-mail account, responsibility, training and, heaven forbid, I was treated like a colleague rather than a massive inconvenience.

Within a week I knew the names of everyone in the office and they even knew mine. They respected my opinions, answered my questions and gave me serious responsibilities, not just menial tasks to keep me occupied. I got the genuine sense they understood the bargain we were making; as a graduate, I was ready to work hard for them, provided I wasn’t being taken for a ride.

 Let me be clear: in an ideal world, employers would risk taking on unproven graduates with raw potential. They’d spot your talent and invest the resources in training you up to be the best you can be. But we don’t live in that ideal world. We live in an economy where more and more graduates are competing with each other for lower and lower paid jobs. That’s an awful reality, but it’s reality nonetheless.

As an intern, what you really need to remember is that you are an equal partner in the experience: you owe them nothing, and the real reason that you’re doing this is for your own career. If you’re ignored, undervalued and treated like dirt by people, walk out. You will lose nothing but a few days, and your confidence will actually grow. If a company wastes your time, throw a spanner in their works and waste theirs.

If, however, a company seems willing to nurture your potential and is willing to take advantage of your generous offer of free labour, providing you with proper advice, the occasional dressing down and a glowing reference then, even if they can’t offer you a job, the whole experience will have been worth a punt.

 Nobody wants to work for nothing, so my simple advice would be don’t. If you’re making yourself skint, make sure it’s worth your while in other ways, and remember that not all internships are the same.

 

 

Living to be the next ‘in-turn’

I don’t like the word ‘Intern’; I’d prefer to call us something along the lines of ‘Company Observers’ or ‘Spectators of Workplaces,’ for that better describes what we do.

We come in, meet the team, receive a desk and sometimes even a phone number and email address by which we are contactable.

We drink the company coffee, learn by example and if we’re really lucky, we actually contribute rather than merely examine the colour scheme of the office, or the efficiency of their recycling procedures.

The word ‘Intern’ suggests to me that we ‘in turn’ might… make the coffee, get a by-line, be offered a job…? I suppose I should acknowledge the fact ‘intern’ doesn’t stem from the combining of the two above words. Such is life.

As an Intern, you never actually admit to your powerlessness. On speaking to clients or companies over the phone, you confidently lead them into a false sense of security. “My name’s Laura and I work at the ‘insert your company here’”.

Again, you live and breathe as though you were a tax paying, benefits accruing, hard-working, company employee.

It doesn’t matter that, in fact, the only thing you share with your ‘colleagues’ is the fact that you buy your lunch at Waitrose; they use their neat salary, you use your £5 lunch allowance, keen to maintain appearances of grandeur and secretly determined to spend every penny of your essentially free lunch.

When you do get a by-line, it stares back at you from the page, as incredulous as to how it got there as you are.

No matter, it is there for the world (or in some cases a slightly smaller percentile) to see, absorb and ultimately judge. It’s slightly like hanging your undies on the washing line on the day your brother invites all his friends over for a beer and BBQ.

Building up a portfolio of work is, I think, the same as compiling a photo album.

It’s self-absorbing, ego-boosting (like having a great tan line in that photo) and it is that all important proof that you have not simply wiled away the summer watching re-runs of Dawson’s Creek and Hollyoaks.

It’s something to look back on in years to come and show the family. “Here’s what I did that summer after I graduated,” says an older, and more wrinkled you flicking through pages of neat prose and copy.

Hours and hours and hundreds more hours of unpaid work. “That’s great Granny. Can I go on my skateboard now?” Perhaps not quite the reaction you were after.

NUJ urges unpaid editorial interns to sue for back-pay

“The National Union of Journalists is urging those who have taken up unpaid editorial internships to get in touch and claim back unpaid wages”, as reported in Press Gazette.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said:

 A campaign drawing together trade unions and other organisations opposed to this cheap labour merry-go-round is now essential and we will play our part in the campaign to bring exploitative employers to book, using minimum wage legislation and other legal means, to steadily change internship culture from one of exploitation to one of genuine learning opportunities.

The union advises that former interns can claim up to six years after the event through the county courts. But it states that minimum wage rules do not apply to students on work experience placements – which are typically limited to one or two weeks.

So what are we all waiting for?!

An unnecessary evil

This is a post from  graduates need not apply, with a video he recommended as well: 

I’m lucky. One of my mother’s best friends happens to be the editor of a national magazine so, primarily down to begging, I am currently in the middle of a two-week stint as an intern. 

This is definitely not the norm in the world of work. Not only is there the huge element of competition, but also those crucial six letters “unpaid,” which immediately throws the proverbial spanner into the works. Most graduates simply cannot work for free.

You can split graduates roughly into two categories, those who have moved back to the family home, and those who are living independently. For those living at home, unpaid internships can be doable given parental support (that’s how I’m surviving); no rent, bills, or high living costs, but for those who are not living at home, a lack of money entering the bank is simply impossible. On top of rent, bills and living costs some internships do not provide for travel costs; which, depending on where you live (London commuters know what I’m talking about), can make an internship financially impossible. My peak-time all zone travel card cost me £48 last week, a huge chunk of money for a graduate working for free. Luckily (I’m lucky after all) my travel costs are covered by my company. For those that aren’t as lucky as me however, this is a horrible situation.

For a lot of graduates, there is financially no way that they can take on an internship, leading them into the perpetual catch-22 situation; I don’t have any experience to get a job but I can’t get a job to get the experience.

The length and type of internship can also be an issue. I currently have a friend who is on a year-long unpaid internship (with travel expenses) at a major Opera company, and hopefully, by the end of that year they will have obtained enough experience to be able to apply for a paying job within that company. However, the reason that they are able to survive on this internship, is through the support of their parents. 

Continue reading ‘An unnecessary evil’


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