Why Internships Are Bad For Journalism (But a Necessary Evil, Grating Experience)
Perhaps some well-wishing j-school professor told you that in order to get ahead in this business, you need to line up prestigious internships, and that toiling away every summer during your undergrad will open to the door to endless opportunities, or at least one? Well, that may be the case, but that whole mentality is RUINING JOURNALISM!!!
So says the New Republic's Adelle Waldman, who tries throwing some weight behind the premise with an argument that goes like this:
The other big problem with the internship culture is that it rewards young people who know exactly what they want to do and immediately begin strategizing about how to get there. Why? "The best internships get hundreds of applicants for just a few positions," says Joe Grimm, the recruitment and development editor for the Detroit Free Press and a recruiter for Gannett. Successful applicants are likely to have worked on the school newspaper or magazine, first in high school and then in college. In other words, they started laying the groundwork for their careers in journalism before the braces came off their teeth. Selecting for such single-mindedness might make sense when seeking out, say, tomorrow's astronauts or professional athletes. But is it sensible to, by default, select for those qualities in journalism, a field that requires its practitioners to observe and comment upon the world at large? Wouldn't it make sense to do the exact opposite? That is, create incentives for people who have wider experience in the world?
Maybe! But that would also assume the established set in the industry who are making the internship hiring decisions want somebody who sort of wants to get into journalism, but maybe fashion or non-profit or doodling will be her actual calling? That possibility doesn't sit well with hardened journos, who want to offer apprenticeships to one of their own. And what's terribly wrong with that? If there are so few internship spots available, why not hand them out to folks who know this is what they want to do with their lives, and that in order to get in the door, they're going to need this opportunity?
Just look at Sean Avery, the NHL player who wrote Anna Wintour asking for an internship. That he's a high-profile athlete (and good looking, and a clothes horse, or a clothes whore) got him the gig, but when all is said and done, he's going to return to the ice rink, which is where he's paid millions to throw opponents against the wall. The Vogue gig was a publicity opportunity that served his inner fashionista, and little more. Is this really the trend Waldman wants to be responsible for?
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