“Playas we ain’t the same…”
On Wednesday, one of the biggest media companies in the world, Conde Nast, ended its vaunted internship program, effective summer of 2014. The move comes after a series of legislative squabbles where interns at the company’s biggest titles, W and The New Yorker, sued because the company was paying them less than $1 an hour to, probably, pick up coffee and oversee other tedious administrative tasks, which they claimed violated minimum wage and overtime laws.
After the news broke, my social media feeds flooded with magazine industry friends who offered a wide-range of opinions. Some lamented that it’s a shame they won’t offer the program anymore (in which they participated). But the overwhelming sentiment was, “yeah, f*ck Conde.” A particularly good friend of mine shared her story in which she was to fly out to New York from Iowa for an in-person interview, thinking that she was in a select pool to get the opportunity, before discovering there were thousands who were doing the same thing.
So, yeah, f*ck Conde.
However, it’s hard for me to definitively take a side. I’ve participated in several magazine internships in New York, which, thankfully, offered me not only worthwhile professional experience but a wage, so shouts out to Esquire and the American Society of Magazine Editors for that. And a good buddy participated in the Conde program for Details where he was offered an editorial position with the magazine upon graduating college.
But I know deep down that these success stories are few and far between. There’s plenty of literature out there that points to how these internships only appeal to those with well-to-do backgrounds, and I can’t disagree: oftentimes it feels as if there’s an unspoken divide–even among full-time staff–between state school and Ivy League kids. Our own David D. has a particularly awesome post for The Guardian about the missed opportunities minority journalists lose when faced with applying for these gigs, which, whether you want to believe it or not, are really the only way into the largest media outlets in the country.
Because, really, the people whom I interned with–all of whom I consider great friends–are the same, meaning they can afford to take the chance and move to one of the most expensive cities in the world to pursue… something. I’m part of that group. But if I could offer any advice to anyone looking to apply, it would be this: don’t.
Look at regional publications where they will more often than not pay you but you’ll also get the awesome, hands-on work of writing, editing and formatting that you won’t get at big titles unless you have a professional organization (like ASME) backing your ass. Online outlets are also way more important nowadays, and will probably be the only thing potential employers ask about anyways. Take it from me where I’m asked more about my work with TSS than any magazine work I’ve done.
Proponents of the internships will point out that, yeah, you get what you sign up for and the saccharine American bromide that hard work pays off. In the case of the latter, yeah, it does, but only when there are open entry-level positions (a current rarity). And even when these positions do open, it’s more of a serendipitous occurrence of knowing someone who knows someone than it is climbing the proverbial ladder.
So fuck Conde. Respectfully, of course. Playas we ain’t the same, but neither is Conde Nast anymore, and there are plenty of better opportunities waiting outside the publishing house umbrella.