Wanted: free dogsbodies

Unpaid internships not only negate widening-access efforts, they devalue jobs and graduates, says Amy Binns in the Times Higher Education Supplement

I recently took a phone call from the editor of a “magazine” - one of those advertisement-laden publications that litter your hallway. He was hoping my journalism students would write for him: “We don’t have an editorial staff as such, we use freelancers, but the same old voices get a bit tired,” he said. “We can’t actually pay, but if they do restaurant reviews they get a free meal and a glass of wine.”

Or in plain English: “Please send me your naive, hopeful students to fill my pages for free. By the time the public equates journalism with advertising, I’ll have made my stash.”

There is alarming evidence that some firms are replacing graduate recruitment schemes with internships - in other words, the same people doing the same jobs but for no money. Students fill in forms, submit portfolios and go for interviews (travel expenses not reimbursed), all for the privilege of six months or even a year of high-pressure, unpaid dogsbodying, where every day is a test of commitment.

Although some well-organised internship programmes are worth the trouble (J.P. Morgan’s has a 60 per cent conversion rate to employment), many are exploitative.

Amy Binns is a lecturer in media, University of Huddersfield.

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