Paying Your Interns: Condé Nast and the Aftermath

Cornelia Beckett ’14
Opinions Editor

Condé-Nast, the media conglomerate where countless young publishing aspirants (and a few Smithies, too) have toiled in the summers has recently shut its internship program, according to The New York Times. A lawsuit brought by former interns claimed that the internships did not pay enough to live. The group has responded with shuttering their intern programs entirely, including internships at publications as disparate as The New Yorker, Glamour and Vanity Fair.

Former interns are sad to see the program go, attesting to the resume boost that comes from working at such prestigious publications. Launching a journalism career is more precarious than ever, in an era when many publications that exist solely online pay their writers about $200 an article–if at all. To make the contacts and do the work at a magazine like The New Yorker is one of the few places that may actually provide more than coffee-fetching and data entering.

Internships by their very definition are exploitative indentured terms that are all but mandatory for educated young adults in the brave new economy of Millenials, we lucky independent contractors in a digital economy of shuttered publications and deferred adulthood. Unless, of course, you need to work for a living wage, like most people do. The Praxis Program at Smith is a valiant effort toward equalizing the internship opportunity playing field for students who need a stipend and can’t “work for free,” but that’s not enough.

The definition of work is labor for which one is paid. Because there are limited jobs in an information economy with a glut of educated people, we are told that working for free as an “intern” is a privilege that leads to a job, eventually. That’s not true. Meanwhile, the paid internships of the world have been statistically proven to lead to jobs. Interns I know who worked at Pepsi-Co or Morgan Stanley are such beneficiaries, with the promise of upwardly-mobile and lucrative entry level corporate jobs after graduation.

The Condé Nast lawsuit is not the first lawsuit over internships, and it will not be the last. Some situations are more exploitative than others, and some interns, due to varying financial privileges or lack thereof, are more vulnerable to exploitation than others. The creative industries, including magazines, are not immune from the digital content shift, or the vagaries of a cut-throat economy. This decade will show how the unpaid internship norm plays out, and hopefully comes to an end.

Leave a Comment