Thursday, 20 February 2014

Will we stand for this?

Sometimes I find myself distracted from doing the things I should be doing - like reading George Eliot books and going to lectures on David Hume - by things that are marginally less important. I spend a lot of my life trawling the internet for places to try and do work experience, and it never goes particularly well.

I end up in rabbit-warrens of despair that all media work experience seems to fall into one of three categories:

1. Unpaid hovering

This is what all my work experience placements have technically been so far - turn up for a couple of weeks, watch people do things, try and be useful. I've managed to get a fair amount out of these though, from pretty much single-handedly generating a week's content for a magazine's website to interviewing a pop star. The problem is you don't get much hands-on experience, and usually expenses aren't paid. Even if I'm only commuting to London for a week, that still costs me about £80 in train fares.

2. Slave labour

The type where you get a job for three months with no pay and expenses only, and are expected to be grateful for the opportunity to do real work - and basically be a short-contract full-time employee - without any promise of further work, or actual help breaking into the sector. These are the sorts that annoy me the most. Science students seem easily able to get themselves paid internships over the summer, even with only a year's academic experience under their belts; but arts demand that you grovel for the chance to make a mediocre writer's tea for twelve weeks.

3. Misadvertised jobs

The final sort are the ones which advertise themselves as "internships". They are not internships. They are year-long schemes for graduate students which will probably end up with permanent employment. They are actual jobs, operating on a year-long contract, which eternally succeed in getting my hopes up, before dashing them - because I'm not eligible to apply to them for at least another two years.

All of these are kinda shitty in their own ways, but type 2 is the worst. Not only is it elitist, by shouldering out of the sector anyone who can't afford three months of unpaid work, but it also devalues the contribution of the interns.

As a kid, growing up, I was taught that if I worked hard in school then I would go to a good university, and if I worked hard at university then I would get a good job and be able to make money doing what I love, and that would be that. I realised at 16 that life doesn't work like that and I couldn't just walk into a job after graduating the same way my dad did. If I want to make my money writing, I have to do it for free, and for a long time. It's one of the only jobs I know of where that's true. 

Honestly, I will probably be a better writer by the end of my degree than I am currently, but it will have less to do with what I studied and more to do with the fact I've had an extra two years to hone my skills. As it is, I am probably a better writer than some graduates, because it is the thing I am good at - and there are going to be some high school students who are better writers than me, if that's the thing they are really good at.

I think we should just ban unpaid internships. Flat-out outlaw them. I'm sure I would be a valued member of your team, but why should I contribute as much as the snotty-nosed 24-year-old next to me when he's on £17,000 a year and I'm on £100 a week expenses?

The sad thing is, I know I'm going to do them. I want to challenge of working on real projects and getting my name in print beyond my brilliant student newspaper - but I also know I'm going to resent having a job and not being paid for it. Will we stand for this? No. But I might well sit at a computer all summer and type for it.

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