I have been pondering about whether or not I wanted to write this piece for months now. It has been an elephant in my proverbial room and the room of people in the media industry. We know it’s there but we don’t speak about it. At least, not out loud. Not in public. Maybe an article will pop up here and there but they are infrequent. Then, this article popped up in a Facebook group I frequent and after reading it, I decided that I couldn’t ignore this subject any longer.
The news media is also one of the industries that has come to rely most heavily on unpaid intern labor—both to perform roles previously delegated to full-time staff, and to serve as a potential hiring pool for the occasional full-time job. Oftentimes, one unpaid internship isn’t sufficient; college students and recent grads are instead locked into a perpetual arms race to amass more credentials in the vain hope that they may one day be adequately compensated for their labor. The advantage, of course, goes to those young adults who are privileged enough to be able to eat and pay rent while working for free as serial interns.
Typically, when a media student or student interested in media is given advice on how to advance their careers, one of the first words they will hear is internship. I have been advised time and time again to seek internships in order to get experience. As I scroll through Facebook and Twitter, my timeline is rife with posts about potential internships or people celebrating landing one. I have been lucky to score a couple of internships here in Atlanta and online but if I were to aspire to intern for some of the big names in the industry I am pursuing, I would have to go out of state and that isn’t feasible for me right now. That isn’t feasible for a lot of students. A lot of us cannot afford to pack up and move away for a few months to work for free.
Where does that leave us?
The answer to that question is something I ponder every day to myself because until now, I have been reluctant to put these thoughts out there because I feared that I would receive some sort of criticism. But at this point, I don’t really care. It is something that has to be said. Students aspiring to be in media that are working class don’t have as many options as their more privileged peers and as a result, they aren’t as skilled and have a harder time getting jobs, if they get one at all.
In addition, I’m almost certain this problem is a factor in why the media’s narrative is still largely white, male, cisgendered and heterosexual. It makes me sad to know there are some storytellers missing out on opportunities to tell their stories because they don’t have connected parents with the wallets to back up those connections. If I could get my mom to foot the bill while I travel to intern at one of my dream companies, I would take her up on it but the reality is I have tuition to pay so I need to work. Risking my job means risking my degree so I have to get my experience where I can. I pick up online internships. I try to guest blog. ANA is another outlet for me to improve my skills.
I’m sure there are some people that think if students simply bust their humps, they will make it into the business and those people would probably roll their eyes at this post and that is perfectly fine. I didn’t write this post to complain, I wrote this post to make people reconsider. Maybe if some companies and hiring managers say this, perhaps they would considering changing their methods a bit. Introduce more online and remote internships. Allow graduates to intern. Don’t just talk about diversity, DO diversity.
What do you think about this? Are working class students getting the short end of the stick? What can be done to help working class students?