"A news story should be like a mini skirt on a pretty woman. Long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting." – Anonymous
I just got back to Indiana from a trip out west. Long story short: I drove to California to help a friend move there for a yearlong apprenticeship at the Orange County Register.
The great thing (besides the obvious) about this opportunity for her is that the Register is providing housing for its interns and trainees. She said the publication decided to offer housing so the most qualified applicants could accept the positions instead of just those who could afford to live in the expensive area.
Coincidentally, on our drive to the OC my fellow journo nerds had been sharing an opinion piece by David Dennis on social media about how the industry’s reliance on unpaid interns hurts the quality of journalism.
In a nutshell, the piece said the quality of journalism is in jeopardy because young journos who have money (or their parent’s financial support) are the ones who are getting internships and jobs at major publications or in major cities. Those who may have the chops but not the dough are forced to pass up opportunities or not even try because they can’t afford it.
It’s easy to argue that it’s just the reality of life: some people can easily get opportunities. The problem lies in what that means for the product the media will then be producing.
If everyone at the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times and every other publication have the same background — upper-middle and upper- class — then how can we ensure that everyone is represented or represented accurately in news media? Publications often already struggle with fairly representing and understanding issues minorities face. If this trend continues, how will people be able to even somewhat trust the news?
Several months ago I talked to one of my friends about my unpaid internship last summer. He, a business major, told me it’s almost unheard of for someone to take an unpaid internship in his field.
“It’s almost a necessity for print reporters,” I told him. Most of my writer and photographer friends have worked unpaid internships. If they did get paid, it wasn’t much. We just grit our teeth and bare it because we know that’s how the industry works, and we’ll never be compensated for the amount of work we do.
Dennis’ post addressed how in order for some young journos to work certain jobs, they’d have to work extra hard by getting a second or third job to support themselves.
That’s what I did.
My program required I had to do one internship for college credit, meaning I had to pay to do an internship.
I had a lease so I accepted an unpaid internship 45 minutes from my apartment. In order to pay for gas, my living and the internship credit, I also accepted the summer editor-in-chief position of the Ball State Daily News.
I knew I would hate myself for working both places, but I also knew I couldn’t move or accept an internship without the funds from a second job. So my summer consisted of working about 65 hours a week and fighting fatigue.
As exhausted as I was, I don’t think that was the worst part for me. My body hated me for what I was doing to it, but my conscience hurt more. I did the best I could to balance both jobs, but the quality of my work suffered in each. I scraped by, and I’m proud of some of the work I was able to produce, but I often wonder what I could have accomplished if I had only accepted one position.
And that brings us back to the even sadder reality.
Knowing what I know now, I probably would make the same decision again if I had a do over. Not because I would want to, but because that’s the nature of this sadist business that I love so much.