It’s always baffled me. From the recent exposé of Victorian-like conditions at Sports Direct to exploited fruit pickers in Chartham, journalism has long been a champion of highlighting injustice — and quite rightly so. But when it comes to the treatment of its own workforce, the motherly embrace reporters often display for those at the bottom can seem a world away.
It’s comes as no surprise to any budding hack that unpaid internships come as part and parcel on getting a foot on an ever-saturated career ladder. I for one wouldn’t turn down a few days at my favourite newspaper or TV station, and statistics show there are thousands of others ready to take my place. Perhaps that’s because the media industry has not only allowed, but encouraged young hopefuls to undertake free labour in what seems to be a spiralling race to the bottom.
Not too long ago, The Independent advertised an 11 week unpaid internship on its website. No longer are we talking about a week or two at the local paper, but months working for nothing in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Then there’s Newsquest, one of the largest publishers of local and regional newspapers, asking students to pay £120 in order to get their own article published.
I could go on all day listing the likes of bogus schemes relying on the goodwill of young people desperate enough to expose their creative talents for free. But no doubt many of you have already come across, or even undertaken, some of these work placements first hand. Sadly, unpaid work has become a rite of passage in the news industry— and us young journos have to bear the brunt of it.
Of course, prolonged sprints of working for nothing is all well and good if you have the financial backing to do so. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission estimate that 74% of Britons believe that young people in their family wouldn't be able to work for a prolonged period unpaid. Is it any wonder that the industry is witnessing a diversity crisis, with only 3% of journalists coming from a family background headed by someone with a semi or unskilled job. Here we have a press claiming to be the voice of the people, yet systematically excluding those it seeks to represent.
If it sounds if i’m narked, that’s because I am. In short, I shouldn’t have to saddle myself into debt, put hours of hard work into postgrad and NCTJ courses only to trudge onto more unpaid work.
As the NUJ’s Chris Wheal says, “writing for nothing does not make you a journalist”.
Doctors or those working within other professions wouldn’t dream of asking someone to work for free after they graduate — and neither should we.