By Christopher B. Daly
Once again, NYTimes media columnist David Carr has put his finger on an issue that deserves more attention: the unpaid internship.
The practice of granting internships to college students for no pay has become rampant in the news business. Some journalistic organizations offer academic credit — or, more precisely, they insist that the student’s university award academic credit for the internship, so that the internship is not technically un-compensated.
In practice, we all know that many internships are worthwhile, for both parties. The intern gets some valuable experience, a list of professional contacts, and a line on his/her resume. The sponsoring newsroom gets some eager, bright help. That’s why they are so difficult to eliminate.
It’s also far from the whole story.
We also know that many internships are exploitative. The students may be relegated to delivering lattes to the boss, and they are passing up the opportunity to do something else. (In many cases, I think my students would be better off getting a real, paid job doing something out of their realm — being a firespotter in a National Forest (Kerouac),
or working on a tramp steamer (E.B. White),
or washing dishes in a restaurant (Orwell).
What writers need above all is material, the kind you can only get from life itself.