Huge changes are coming to publishing. Condé Nast recently confirmed that they would be ending their internship program starting in 2014. This decision likely follows high publicity lawsuits brought by former interns at W and The New Yorker. Hearst –which faced its own class action lawsuit from a former Harper’s Bazaar intern – has yet to comment on the state of its internship program.
This decision will fundamentally change the way the magazine industry functions, and that’s not hyperbole. On the one hand, it seems obvious that work should be compensated. While Condé Nast requires that interns get “paid” in school credit, many schools only count that credit nominally, so students end up working a full academic load in addition to an internship. Students who work the summer term end up actually losing money if they’re not from New York, since food and shelter don’t come with a chance to run into Anna Wintour in the elevator.
While fear of bad press and legal action likely spurred this decision, it could bring an element of socioeconomic equality to an unbalanced industry. Unpaid internships favor well-off students. For the most part, only those that can afford to work for free (as opposed to, say, babysitting) take fashion internships, which doesn’t help the industry’s elitism problem. Ask Chelsea Turner, who parlayed her internship at LMVH into a full-time job at Marc Jacobs: “I could not have afforded to have an internship if it wasn’t paid, and I don’t see how I would have broken into the industry otherwise.” Chelsea also held an unpaid position at Marie Claire, but left after three months: “I left on pretty bad terms. I felt like I was abused.”
The Atlantic supports Chelsea’s claim. In June, they reported on a three year-study conducted by NACE, The National Association of Colleges and Employers, on the relationship between internships, both paid and unpaid, and job offers. It turns out, there’s little to no correlation between an unpaid internship and a job offer post-graduation. The same cannot be said of paid internships, which have been found to lead to job-offers.
Now that interns are out of the picture, who’s going to spend hours folding shirts and color-coding shoes in the fashion closet? Images will sit un-photocopied, envelopes un-licked. Without interns, Condé Nast brands will most likely have to hire entry-level employees to do the grunt work usually left to interns. In a notoriously crowded industry, more work means more job opportunities, right?
Caitlin Van Horn (Fordham ’13) a former Glamour intern sees her internships as integral to her career: “The journalism program at my school was a joke. I understand that unpaid internships are an unfair enterprise, but I couldn’t have gotten any of the freelancing work I have now without the skills or connections I got at Condé Nast.”
Without interns, the model for hiring will have to be completely revised. Not all colleges have journalism options for undergraduates, so will those students be at a disadvantage? Not all burgeoning art directors aced Freshman Biology, will they be replaced by less creative types with higher GPAs? Will nepotism get even more rampant?
Money aside, internships are a valuable experience for pre-professionals because it’s far easier to hate an internship than hate a job. Had I not interned, albeit unpaid, I would probably be pursuing a career in law or working at a talent agency. Internships allow people to test the waters of an industry before pursuing a career full speed ahead.
While the connections and work experience gained in internships help people get jobs, the freedom that trial and error allows really can’t be replaced.
Of course, there’s a way around this. Condé Nast could simply pay their interns, removing the barriers against students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Pay is incentivizing. If internships were converted into part-time jobs, the quality of work would rise. Employees would have more incentive to properly train their interns and as a result, could demand more from them.