An unpaid intern is suing Hearst, claiming the media giant violated labor laws. The lawsuit — which Xuedan Wang and her attorney hope will be joined by unpaid Hearst interns across America — asserts that in exchange for college credit she worked long hours at tasks that would ordinarily be done by paid employees.
What? Isn’t that what interns are for?
I did an internship at a local television station back in the summer of 1983. I arrived in Albany just in time to stand on the corner of Washington and Swan and watch the funeral procession for Erastus Corning 2nd. At the time I thought, “Wow! He must have been some important guy!”
Sure, the TV station treated me like an entry level employee instead of a student. On my very first day they handed me a brush and had me painting sets. There was plenty of other menial labor I was assigned, things that had nothing to do with learning about television.
I gladly did the work — and I ended up getting hired there, working for peanuts, really. $5.70 per hour, which adds up to $12,000 per year.
Unpaid internships are a staple of the media world, and there’s very little discussion about what work interns may and may not do. In shops without unions they may end up doing almost anything.
On internships, the Department of Labor says, “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.”
Who knows, we may be seeing the end of the intern free for all. Then the only unpaid workers at media companies will be “citizen bloggers.”