NBC News is planning to pay its interns starting in the spring of 2013, according to a well-placed source at the network, addressing a long-held contention that requiring interns to work only for the experience or for college credit amounts to favoring students with well-to-do parents.
The number of internships and the salary level have yet to be determined, the source said.
The arguments for and against unpaid internships have been made for years.
In 2006, NBC News was embarrassed when Brian Williams, “Nightly News” anchor and managing editor, posted a photo of the unpaid “Nightly News” interns that showed that none were of color. Williams wrote afterward on his blog, “In previous years, our interns have better reflected American society” and added that “. . . I have spoken to Steve Capus, the President of NBC News, and going forward, racial diversity will now also be a factor in our unpaid summer internship program, because our newsrooms have to better reflect our society.”
“The economics of unpaid internships are obvious,” Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote in April. “Employers are desperate for cheap work, and ‘free’ is pretty cheap. Workers are desperate for, well, anything, and students and recent grads are willing to negotiate their wages down to zero. But the ethics aren’t so clear-cut. If unpaid internships are the key to better jobs and bigger salaries, should we be concerned about the millions of lower-class students who can’t afford to work for free?”
In 2005, Reginald Stuart, then a recruiter for the now-defunct Knight Ridder newspaper chain, and now corporate recruiter for the McClatchy Co., accepted the Ida B. Wells award for promoting diversity from the National Association of Black Journalists with a plea for audience members to advocate for paid internships.
“Are you insisting at every turn that interns be paid for the work they do?” Stuart asked. “At the Howard University Jobs Fair yesterday, I was reminded how ingrained this no-pay notion is, especially in the heads of young recruiters who need to be on the front lines fighting it. I asked a young recruiter if his company was paying its interns. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘They don’t do that.’ If he’s working for them, shouldn’t he be saying ‘we?’
“In one breath, I was ashamed of him and for him. He reminded me of the character in the movie ‘Crash’ who seemed powerless to determine anything in his company, even how a line of script in a sitcom should be read. Trust me. Paying interns is an easy one.”
Although NBC News in general has not paid its interns, ABC News and CNN do, and CBS News and Fox News have arrangements for the college to offer course credit.
“ABC News offers a number of paid and unpaid internships every semester,” then-ABC spokeswoman Natalie Raabe told Journal-isms in 2006. “The paid internship program was instituted in 2000 for students of color who demonstrate a solid interest in journalism and network news.”
[LaShanti Jenkins, ABC News intern coordinator, added by email on Tuesday: "Typically there are 50-65 interns per term (including NY, LA, and DC). All news interns are paid $8.50/hour and we transitioned to an all-paid program in Spring 2008."]
ABC’s internship material states, “We offer an attractive hourly salary. Interns are not eligible for company medical benefits, holiday pay or sick pay.” The internships are in New York; Burbank, Calif.; and Glendale, Calif. Candidates must be available a minimum of 16 hours a week.
CNN’s website says, “Students @ Work Internships are paid at minimum-wage and structured to last approximately 12 weeks. Program dates are January 28 – April 19. Course Credit is available.”
NBCUniversal news internships take place in New York; New Jersey; Universal City, Calif.; and Burbank, Calif.; and Connecticut, and include the cable networks CNBC and MSNBC.
“In addition to an up to date knowledge of the news, a successful intern exhibits extraordinary attention to detail, and can function as part of a dynamic environment driven by both pace and accuracy. Journalism and political science majors are preferred, but not required,” NBC says.
An exception to the no-pay internships at NBC has been the Emma Bowen Foundation.
“The Emma L. Bowen Foundation was established by the media industry to help increase access to permanent job opportunities for minority students,” according to the NBC website.
“The Foundation’s program is unlike other intern programs in that students work for a partner company during summers and school breaks from the end of their junior year in high school until they graduate from college. During that five-year period, students have an opportunity to learn many aspects of corporate operations and develop company-specific skills. Students in the program receive an hourly wage, as well as matching compensation to help pay for college tuition and expenses. Mentoring from selected staff in the sponsoring company is also a key element of the program.”
At CBS News, the interns’ duties are listed as, “Log tapes, coordinate script, research stories, conduct preliminary interviews, assist during shoots, select footage, perform light clerical duties and assist staff members,” with the proviso that “Duties vary in each department.”
A description adds, “This is an unpaid internship. Student must get credit.” [Updated Nov. 27]
Steven Greenhouse, New York Times: Jobs Few, Grads Flock to Unpaid Internships (May 5)
Derek Thompson, the Atlantic: In Defense of Unpaid Internships (May 10)