Wednesday, September 30, 2009...9:30 am

The ups and downs of internships

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I posted a while ago about the graduate journalism show at UCA in Farnham. I was impressed by several of the final year projects, and mentioned the F1-focused piece by Adam Leveridge.

As it happens, a little while after the show Adam landed a nice internship with a web content company called Adfero. It’s the company behind the inthenews.co.uk site, which covers the usual current affairs areas including, handily for Adam, Formula 1 racing.

But while Adam himself is delighted with his placement there, and he thinks he’s getting a lot out of it, there’s a down side. Yes – money. Or the lack of it.

He writes:

I’m getting so much experience  and I’ve gained so many new and important contacts within the F1 community. It’s exciting when I gain a new contact. For example, yesterday I interviewed one of my heroes Johnny Herbert about the Renault race-fixing scandal and it was amazing. I hope I don’t lose that buzz.

This is great: being able to make contact with top-flight people when you’re doing work experience is good news – certainly head and shoulders above making the tea – or reworking press releases into a news in brief column for example.

Adam tells me he’s already written some 200 news stories for the site, and is producing a feature a week, as well as running live commentary of races and writing race round-ups and reaction pieces.

Now, as he says, that’ll be good for his CV. And there’s nothing to beat the real production experience of producing volumes of work to real deadlines. (There’s a wealth of his work here, for anyone interested.)

But there’s a flip side to this, of course. Adfero is getting a lot of work for nothing here. In fact, at a casual glance it looks like Adam is responsible for the site’s entire F1 coverage.

At least Adam believes he’s getting valuable feedback from the editor and the rest of the team. As I’ve pointed out before, working for free initially is fine as long as you’re getting something – like feedback and experience – out of it. He thinks it’s improving his confidence and ability, and you can’t argue with that.

But as he himself admits, though he has worked for several different publishers now, and this particular placement sounds more like a real job than work experience, he’s seen no actual money from his work.

I’m lucky that I can afford to do unpaid internships like this, as a lot of my uni peers are desperate for work and would love to be doing something similar. The only thing stopping them is that they just can’t afford the travel expenses, which I completely understand […] it cost me over £250 to travel into London for my two-week placement with Arena in February and another £300 to travel to where Autosport are based in Teddington for three weeks.

Increasingly, it seems that journalism – particularly when it involves the kind of desirable sports and entertainment work that so many graduates want to get into – is a rich person’s hobby, rather than a viable career choice.

There’s nothing that we can do about it, either. For all the NUJ’s talk of sit-ins and journalists bemoaning the deskilling of their trade, there is so much demand from journalism entrants for placements (rather than the other way around), that employers simply don’t need to pay much – ar anything – for a lot of the work they demand.

As Adam admits himself: “It’s a real privilege to be involved in F1. In fact I’d probably pay for the privilege if I had to.”

That’s the underlying problem, of course. Sadly, it means he’ll probably keep having to – until either he makes enough of a name for himself (or gets enough privileged F1 access) to claw back some money. Or he’s forced into another area of journalism – or out of journalism entirely.

I certainly hope it’s the former…

2 Comments

  • Rich person’s hobby? Couldn’t agree more. The only way, that I can see, to get a job in this industry(-in-decline) is to work for months and months and months for free. Either that, or have a crack at the four or five advertised jobs – along with the other hundreds and hundreds of graduates.

  • Couldn’t agree more. You may recall my final project sports journalism piece alongside Adam’s about the return of Alan Shearer to Newcastle United. After stints at Manchester United (Inside United, United Review and Utd.com) and FourFourTwo magazine I managed to get one paid freelance piece for United. Since then I’ve tried to do a bit of work for Englandfans magazine, but again it is unpaid. In the end, a well-paid marketing officer job came up locally for an exciting new sports project in Surrey, and after applying for it I got the job. So four months after graduating with a journalism degree and after 5 weeks of work placements including paid work, I am now working in marketing and PR. I’m enjoying every minute of it, mainly because of the people I work with and the sheer scope of the project, but the contrast between myself and Adam couldn’t be more different!

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