Are you a qualified journalist with lots of talent, a creative approach to finding the best stories and a bulging contacts book? Then we want you to work for us …
We won’t pay you expenses, we’re not offering you a promise of work in the future but, if you come and join our happy team of interns, or write for us when not at your real job, then we can promise you an ego boost or something to put on your CV.
We’ve all seen these ads. Although mine is less disingenuous than those promising work experience or a step up the career ladder for what are real jobs but with no pay.
The growing acceptance of working for nothing in the journalism industry – either as internships or as wannabe-hacks with real work elsewhere – is ridiculous and more damaging than we seem to admit.
I know the concept of selling one’s labour seems old-fashioned to some but why else do we go to work? Ok, you like your journalism role; perhaps what you do is important, exciting, makes you feel all full of yourself … but if you’re doing it unpaid then you’re being exploited.
Where is the significance and thrill in working unpaid for a company profiting – making money for other people – from your labour?
You get dressed for work, travel into work, sit at a desk and do work, take a lunch break from work, travel home from work and maybe do some prep for the next day’s work … and you don’t get paid?! That is insane! Promising you exposure might well mean you get your byline on a few features … but saying it might lead to work is toxic. If you produce a tabloid splash that sudden rush of excitement, that boost to your ego won’t even pay your bus fare home.
Or you write articles on return home from your proper job. You get home tired but excited about your “assignment” and write it up imagining you’re in a newsroom. You see your byline on a website. Good, isn’t it? Do you log on and show all your real colleagues the next day and feel proud? Well, to be blunt, there’s no pride in taking work from journalists who don’t have a “proper job” to go to because you’re willing to work for free.
Don’t be fooled. Why would any business owner pay you, and other journalists, for work if you’re willingly to do it for free? Work experience – where you spend a week away from journalism training to work on a paper and see if you like it – is one thing but turning up to work every morning, sitting at a desk, working like a journalist and not being paid for your effort is something different entirely.
It is exploitation. It might not fit with your glamorous idea of “being a journalist” but you are being exploited by people making a profit from your willingness to work unpaid.
It also means that journalism is becoming the domain of people who can afford unpaid internships to get a few bylines. And it means journalists like me won’t get work at all while you’re working for nothing.
And you can call yourself a journalist and feel good about it but you’re not one – not until you get paid. I give people lifts and don’t ask them for money – it doesn’t make me a taxi driver.
You love the journalism industry? Well stop killing it by working for free! The more you give your talent for nothing, the more employers will stop paying journalists and the fewer jobs there will be for us all to go around.
And you can forget accessible journalism for all. Unpaid internships and working for nothing create an industry where only trust fund babies or those with second jobs get a step on the ladder – and journalists who need that work end up on the dole.
There is help for journalism interns who’re desperately trying to start a career – and taking a chance with the promises of the money-grubbing managers – the National Union of Journalists Cashback for Interns campaign. “When the NUJ helped Keri Hudson to successfully sue TPG Web Publishing, the tribunal judgement made clear that many interns who have worked for little or no money could be entitled to claim the minimum wage.”
I left University and started work on a local paper; the pay was rubbish but that job led to much experience many bylines and a step up to national press agencies and so on.
Now the papers are closing and young journalists are being exploited .. it makes me rage!
Stop working for free!