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Paying for an Internship — Why one magazine’s charity is pushing young journalists apart

November 3, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

It is so competitive for an Internship today, the free labor that most of America’s media giants rely on, that people are actually paying to get in. Harper’s Bazaar is offering a one-month internship with them as part of Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project’s Hulaween Auction. The magazine, one of the largest fashion rags on the market, is donating the Internship in the name of charity.

Myself, a struggling 25-year-old Intern, can’t believe his eyes. Internships are part of the professional fabric when it comes to piecing together a successful career in today’s media. Editors talk greatly about the need to understand the pain of relentless fact checking, getting coffee, stuffing media packets and working with little to no pay. It’s a right of passage almost every successful editor has been though, and many point to it as the reason they are successful. But it’s changing. So fast actually, that it has become a class war, where the poor are left helpless, scratching for clips and the opportunity to succeed, while the rich roll in, designer sleeves up and drink copious amounts of beer at happy hour after turning off their computer.

Just about four months ago I was rejected for Outside Magazines Internship. I was willing to leave a well paying job, pack up my life and move four states away to make $8.15 an hour. The research editor told me I didn’t have enough experience in my resume and therefore would not work.

I stood there, phone in hand, mouth open, ready to scream. “What do you want me to do!” I wanted to yell. “I am on my own financially, have been reduced to working to live at a young age when some of my competition is benefiting from daddy and mommy. Here I am willing to sacrifice just about every materialistic item I have to fact check for you and eat pasta every night!” I was distraught, upset, livid and more determined than ever.

Four weeks ago while sitting in a turnout somewhere outside of Chicago, I had my first and only Interview with Backpacker magazine. I remember praying before hand asking God to guide me in the right direction. I was edgy inside, unsettled and anxious. This was my chance to show them that even though I don’t have a masters degree, clips from the AP while working in France, or a high-level contact inside their magazine, that I was qualified for the position.

I don’t exactly remember the interview, but what I do remember is that the words seemed to come to me effortlessly. When asked delicate complex questions, I provided short concise answers that proved I had done my homework and understood the industry. When it was over I felt relieved, almost sure that I was at least in the running. That night I ended my month-long journey drinking beer with a very wise man who opened up my eyes by being vulnerable in wisdom.

“Find out what you can provide,” he said, “and hone that skill. You may be able to write well, but is it writing that you enjoy? Or storytelling? So many people try to do it all themselves, but what you don’t know, is that you may meet someone that can take your skill and bring it to the masses. When you find your skill, work on the vehicles to get it out there, but until then, work hard, work smart and always push yourself.”

Our conversation lasted over three hours, and it changed my life. At the end we discussed the Internship with Backpacker. We talked about the pros, the cons and the advantages to ending my trip early and pursuing my dream. It was clear by the end of the night that given the chance I would drive west the next day and find a place to live in Boulder, Colorado.

The past three weeks have been a blur. The past two have found my immersed in Backpacker’s office, wide-eyed and grinning from ear to ear. But regardless of how well I do, how much impact I make, there is still the great possibility of being laid off in six months when my Internship ends and going back to unemployment. It’s that uncertainty, that level of vulnerability that seems to set the dedicated apart from the wishy-washy. Unless of course you are able to pay the bills without a paycheck, then it would just be another adventure.

“I don’t have a problem being the 31-year-old Intern,” a fellow Intern at Backpacker said yesterday on the drive home. “It’s what you have to do,” she added. I nodded my head in agreement. She was dead on.

It makes me wonder if whoever bids the most for Harper’s Bazaar really wants to be there as much as the washed-up hardworking American girl waiting tables and stringing for a small daily to build clips. I know it’s not a fair world out there, but paying to participate in an Internship? Have we gone too far? It’s almost like paying for people to vouch that you worked for them on your resume, and last time I checked that took money, not skill.

  1. Wendy
    November 11, 2007 at 2:08 am

    OK, so “no comments”. Take it and run…onto the next topic. Go, Tim, Go!

  2. September 29, 2008 at 11:46 am

    just came across this post rather randomly… seeing that it was written almost a year ago, how did things work out for you? Still with Backpacker? Have you found your niche?

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