When we’ve argued that the unpaid internship system should not be abused by large, for-profit companies to avoid paying wages, this is not the solution we had in mind. Young people will no longer be able to work their way up through the publishing ranks starting as an intern at Vogue or W or Teen Vogue or The New Yorker, because Condé Nast is killing its internship program.
Condé Nast was sued this summer by two former interns from W and The New Yorker who claim they were paid below minimum wage. Current interns will keep their jobs for now, but no new interns will be hired in 2014.
This is sad news for students who wanted to work in publishing, because internships can definitely help young people get jobs in their fields. But while internships can be extremely useful, they are often abused in the U.S. as for-profit companies get real work out of young people in exchange for “experience.”
Personally, I honestly had no idea of the employment laws regarding internships until several years after I was out of school. Since looking them up, I am pretty certain all but one of my internships were not actually legal. (The legal one was for a nonprofit, because nonprofits are subject to different rules regarding internships.) When I took them, I just assumed that working for free for up to 18 hours a day was completely normal.
Internships can help a lot when it comes to getting hired in one’s field after graduation, and they benefit students and the industry. But they’re not supposed to be a “wink-nudge” situation where big corporations get to avoid hiring actual, paid employees because they can get privileged 20-year-olds to work for free because their parents will give them money and they don’t know that the situation isn’t legal.
On the plus side, because interns so often do actual work that needs doing, getting rid of the internship program likely means that Condé Nast will have to hire some more actual employees. More jobs is good.
Internships are also supposed to help create opportunities for young people; they’re not supposed to create a barrier around an industry that makes it even harder for people without privileged backgrounds to get in.
Internships should not disappear, they should continue to exist but be run with proper oversight and adhere to employment laws. In many cases, that would mean companies should be paying their damn interns.
Via WWD/Photo: 20th Century Fox