The Interns Are Revolting!

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.”

Yeah, right.

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.”

5 thoughts on “The Interns Are Revolting!

  1. A completely frivolous lawsuit. When I was going to school many moons ago, I was happy to get college credit for what amounted to an apprenticeship. As you correctly note, that’s what unpaid internships are all about.

    Just who is the ambulance chase that is counseling her? You think any employer in the foreseeable future is ever gonna give this kid a paying gig?

    (Actually, my biggest beef today with internships is that some kids get college credit AND money.)

    B/T/W, with respect to your header, it made me think of Mel Brooks’ famous line during the French Revolution scene from History of the World, Part 1. I was tempted to answer, “You’re damn right, they stink on ice,” but thought otherwise.

    1. Glad somebody gets my jokes!

      I think there may be situation where interns are exploited, but mostly not. The best internships give the student hands-on experience. What else are they going to do? Sit and watch you work all day?

      I’d say interns should avoid situations where they can’t do real work. I’ve seen TV stations — union shops — where they were forbidden from doing the jobs they wanted to learn. That’s a waste of everybody’s time. A really good intern can be a great asset.

      While I didn’t get paid for my internship, at the end the boss gave me a $500 “stipend” on the QT. That was back in the days when TV was a different business.

  2. I did all sorts of ridiculous shit as an intern. You’re right about union shops; I did my internship at WPTZ in Plattsburgh and was actually doing on air reporting before it was over. I would never have had that opportunity with the other internship I was offered, at WNBC in New York.

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