Unpaid interns: 'It's exploitation'

Newsrooms are offering potentially illegal work experience placements to journalism graduates lasting months, giving them hollow promises of paid work and relying too heavily on free labour, the NUJ has warned.

The union this week released a survey of 644 journalists who qualified in the past five years which claims that the exploitation of young journalists is rife among newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and websites.

The union said employers could be breaching minimum wage legislation by keeping people on in unpaid roles.

Just over half of all respondents took work-experience placements after graduating from their journalism courses. More than 15 per cent did between three and six months continuously and 6.8 per cent were on placements lasting more than six months.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: ‘That’s not work experience; that’s work. Many media companies seem to think that it’s acceptable to exploit the hopes and dreams of recent journalism graduates by getting them to work for free in exchange for flimsy promises of future work.”

Support

Some newly qualified journalists found their placements useful: 43.7 per cent said they were given clear support and guidance, but 56.3 per cent said they received limited help.

A quarter said their hosts relied too heavily on work-experience students to carry out routine tasks. Of the 90 per cent who had their work published, 20 per cent said they were ‘always’or ‘sometimes’paid for it.

While 42.7 per cent were told a placement could lead to a permanent paid job, only 24.1 per cent of those were taken on.

Dear accepted that work experience was a ‘vital element of a student journalist’s training”,butsaid some employers were creating ‘bogus placements”.

One respondent, who spent several months at a national daily and Sunday newspaper, said: ‘Neither would survive without unpaid work experience. One of my colleagues had been working unpaid for 11 months before going on the payroll after NUJ pressure.”

Threat

The union will now campaign on the issue and has threatened to name companies singled out in the survey.

On job website Gorkana this week, 11 magazines, newspapers and websites were advertising for ‘interns’– many for more than two months.

One journalist, who asked not to be named, did a three-month internship three years ago with a women’s monthly, where at the time they had two features interns and two to three fashion interns all working at once.

She said: ‘To get your foot in the door, you need to serve your time as an intern, which essentially means working for free in the most expensive city in the country.”

‘You sign up, you do your time, no questions asked. However, saying all that, my experience was both enjoyable and invaluable to where I am now.”

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