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Why Is There No ‘Intern Revolution’?

Justine the Intern

That’s the question Katy Waldman asked on Slate yesterday.

So many unpaid internships, especially in the media world, are technically illegal. We’ve known this for years, and the media has occasionally taken an interest in writing about how exploited these interns are. But it seems, Waldman writes, that there are more unpaid internships than ever.

So why aren’t interns other than Xuedan Wang, who is suing Hearst for back wages owed her for an “internship” that took 50+ hours a week, speaking out? A few reasons:

  • Even if she wins her case, Wang has essentially torpedoed her chances of getting fulltime work at Harper’s Bazaar, which was, she had previously said on her website, her career goal.
  • If anyone offers unpaid internships, everyone will, because suddenly it’s a competitive advantage to have so many people working for you for free.
  • Internships are vastly different from one another, Waldman says. “Some internships are dismal and exploitative; others enthralling and useful; some a mix.”
  • And it’s hard to stay “on message” with internships, Waldman concludes. The interns who are exploited working 40+ hours a week without pay are actually the fortunate, privileged ones, because they can afford to work 40 hours a week without pay. “At best, the anti-internship camp is hopelessly confused about whether interns are privileged or disadvantaged,” she says. It’s hard to crusade against internships without having a consistent message.

The New York Times is collecting stories of unpaid internships (“And yes, come to think of it, we are asking you for more free work”) but feel free to share yours with us, too. We’ll start. Lucky enough to have only “had to” do one unpaid internship, and that only 2/5ths time. At the time, it sucked more than anything (the lack of pay, not the work itself) but I now know I got off very easy.

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