For a recent journalism graduate like myself there are a few particular phrases, which I have come to despise. The first is ‘unpaid internship’ and the second is ‘at least three years industry experience’. The former is oft meant to be the introduction to the second, should you have completed the impossibly unfair expectations of the first, the second will come. Oddly enough the two don’t sync with the same industry rhythm that’s expected. To be honest, it’s not the two phrases themselves I take umbrage with, but rather the blank space left between the two. “Unpaid? For how long? That’s too long, I’m sorry I’ll have to throw my CV into the Costcutter up the road”.
When a friend of mine explained, wielding his economics degree that he had planned to begin work with the ‘Big Four’, ‘KPMG, PwC, EY and Deloitte’, I thought, ‘how lucky for him’. 23,000 euro starting salary, paid job experience and the possibility of moving out of his parent’s house must only be on the horizon. He had chosen to be a money hungry bedfellow of the capitalist system, while I had retained my ill-informed morals. It’s only fair that the gatekeepers of truth should be put through the monetary mill, suffering for our art (or whatever it is us journalists are meant to believe). It’s only fair that I should slog it out in an unpaid internship for the next few months in the hope of, maybe, becoming a copy editor for a travel magazine…. or it it?
Recent graduates of the journalistic persuasion are expected to work, unpaid for as long as deemed suitable, until they have learned the skills that, for some reason were never taught to them in college. In education you pay to work hard, often-ridiculous sums for an apparently unrecognised degree you emerge with, only then to be asked again to work without pay, until a time where you have been deemed ‘fit to enter the working populous’. So few other professions expect this right of passage, and its no wonder so many recent graduates of journalism degrees are working in Penny’s and Centre’s across the country. These places pay them for their services. One thing I believe that Irish media outlets often forget is that a portion of job satisfaction is tied up in how much you earn. One’s skills and efforts should be at least modestly proportionate to what one earns. When a person earns nothing, they feel like exactly that. When you pay someone nothing, you are telling him or her, that there are worth nothing. Running with sweated, stained shirts across Dublin’s city centre, loosing sleep and developing caffeine induced heart palpitations in the feeble hope of being seen, as a ‘functioning member of society’ seems like a rather exploitative system. There are many flaming hoops to jump through, and no net for us to land on.
The second, and possibly the greatest problem with the internship system is the amount of talent that is squandered because some cannot simply afford to work unpaid, for as long as is expected. Some manage the almost impossible workload, stacking Spar shelves with soggy milk packages by day, and writing furiously, and deliriously by night. This wouldn’t seem, as much of an impossible task if those who are both covered in milk and drowned in grunt work weren’t expected to perform to the same standard as the rest of the ‘functioning, paid, older and unconvincingly wiser’ staff.
The fact remains that if you cannot afford to work for free, for months on end, the chances of you becoming a journalist are limited. Immediately, an entire class of people become alienated. Even students from well-to-do families, in their twenties will still have to cup hands and dirty their knees to their parents if they want to intern while staving off a disease brought on by eating nothing but pot noodle. This internship culture homogenizes the voice of the media, and alienates any of the much-needed left of centre voices, which are only found squeaking angry, incomparable truths behind and an RTÉ reporter’s back.
We have in the last few years seen an interesting political shift, where left of centre candidates have entered the Dáil, most recently with the election of Paul Murphy in my own constituency, in the recent by-election. Murphy ran as a single-issue candidate, to oppose the water charge and won, its what the people want. So, if we are able to shake up the political landscape, then why not the media landscape? Why not foster a meritocracy rather than a system where jobs are auctioned to the highest bidder? Why not allow a minimum wage for students entering internships, and why not improve the media as a whole? Why should we settle for a single class voice? It’s that same frame of thought which gives the American media Fox News and that’s not something, I believe the Irish people want. No one is asking for anything beyond reason here, just to earn enough to continue to work as incredibly hard as journalism graduates always have. Allow us to make your publications better, allow us to drag the Irish media into the 21st century and allow us to be the journalists that you believed you would be, when you began your career.