Thoughts on internships for a Saturday.

About three years ago in December, I posted an opportunity on here that was sent to me advertising for a free internship. I had posted the same job three months earlier and not a word was spoken about it. Somehow, someway though, word got out and it went viral. It started a completely unexpected firestorm in a matter of two days that got over 13,000 hits, hundreds of comments and blog posts and a wave of vitriolic jabs at successful photographers who hire free labor.

It was a HUGE learning experience for me. First and foremost, I learned how to turn off comments until they’d been approved! I also learned even the most respected professionals in our career are not immune to criticism by a disgruntled industry, no matter how misguided. But mostly, I learned we as an industry need to consider this issue more closely and must decide what using free interns says about us.

After carefully culling the vicious/curse word filled comments, the discussion turned for the better. The follow up posts created a very interesting series of thought-provoking commentary on the world of free interns. This discussion still rages on on other blogs, newsletters and articles. Now, it seems the issue has moved in the courts as you’ll read below.

The following article by NPR should make us all in the photographic industry consider what it means to be an intern, why we hire interns and what are the risks and benefits of free labor. Do we continue to allow each other “eat our young” as many suggest free internships do? Or will we try to find the best ways to foster the next generation of storytellers?

I don’t have an answer and I don’t think there is a simple one to this issue. However, the choice of using interns, made by all who employ or use free labor, needs to be made not for personal gain but to help support the industry’s long term success.

I very rarely write personal thoughts on this blog as you all know. However, this is one of those few days where I wanted to reach out to you all to encourage us all to act in the best interests of the industry for the future of photojournalism and photographers everywhere.

I encourage you to read the article, comment on this post if you want or simply share the article with others. Let us strive to the other industries know: we in all avenues of photography will try to act a shining example of the best treatment of the youth in our career field. Let’s begin a dialogue about our future.


5 thoughts on “Thoughts on internships for a Saturday.

  1. Free internships are a disgrace, and are an example of the ludicrious abuse of workers rights. there should be no discussion in the value of a free internships since they in themselves do not value the interns workmanship. why could it be so difficult to pay minimum wage for such valuable work? what justification could there be for such worker abuse?

    people are free to do what they like, but in a lot of states in America, these free internships are illegal and should be prosecuted. if you cannot afford an intern, then you don’t deserve an intern, no matter what the economic climate is.

  2. If you’re wondering why your post was not approved, I’ll remind everyone on the rules of commenting on Jamie’s List:

    – No curse words. Save that for sitting with your friends around the bar.
    – No defamatory statements. They will be removed from your posts.
    – No aggressive or vicious attacks.
    – Support your arguments with facts, not barbs at other comments.
    – Be nice and practice the Golden Rule.

    Make no bones about it, if you curse or make inflammatory statements, I will remove it. If you bring up good points in an adult and dignified manner, I will be happy to keep it up!

  3. I worked an unpaid internship as part of my master’s project, and the only way I was able to make it work was because of a scholarship and my husband’s job. While I was there though, I was told that they had been fighting for years to get all three semesters paid instead of just the summer interns. After I left, the funding was approved. So while it sucked for me to not get paid, others will and that makes me feel better about it. Also, I know it sounds SO cliché that the experience was worth it, but for me, it really was. Would I do it again, going forward from here? No way. Would I re-do the unpaid internship I had? Absolutely, as long as the situation was exactly as it was. I got lucky. Others are not.

  4. As with most things, I think it depends on the individual, the job, and the industry. I know my unpaid internship in the photo department of a magazine was invaluable. I don’t think I would be where I am today in my career without it. There are many skills you can’t learn sitting in a classroom. Skills people want before they pay you. So getting work experience was and is crucial.

    That being said, the interns working in the news department, at the same magazine, were paid minimal wage. I never could understood why. My conclusion came down to budget reasons or the overall feeling that the art department always played second fiddle – my money is on the latter.

    We worked the same hours, and they got paid. It upset me during the internship and some time after. However, looking back on the situation now it seems almost trivial. I really do owe the start of my fun and exciting career to that internship. To me, that is priceless.

  5. I took a unpaid internship because i knew it would be a great way to land another internship in the future, hoping that the next one would be paying. It was a wonderful experience. BUT, considering that most students trying to achieve a degree in Photojournalism are probably paying 30,000 a year plus for school and that’s not considering the cost of living, makes me wonder how Fafsa expects me to pay them back.

    Later in the year I was accepted for a internship at the largest paper in a latin american country… i was excited. Very excited. But after the interview and finding out i would only be paid $200 a month i couldn’t take the opportunity. The editor then proceeded to say, “most interns come from family’s with rich parents, we’ll just have to find one of them.” … In all reality, i wouldn’t want to work for someone who would say that, especially after she kinda chuckled after saying it. But it made me think, like it say’s in the article posted, ” that the company provides interns with a “valuable ‘real world’ business experience.” To me, it just echoes the notion, “Life’s not fair.”

    Starting this month i have to start repaying my student loans, with all of the loans added together it comes close to $800 a month. I currently pay a $450 a month to rent a small studio. Last month i drove over 500 miles for my job, Fortunately i get $.45 cents to the gallon back I get paid $300 a week for 40 hours of work.

    I was never expecting to be making the big bucks in this industry, i’m doing it because i love it. But sometimes i wonder how i will be able to afford the cost of living.

    ps. my car made a weird noise this morning :/

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