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Hearst Prepares for Lawsuit Over Unpaid Internships

Hearst BuildingWe’ll begin this story with a disclaimer: Hearst is a Mediabistro partner. There you go.

That said, the publisher has a huge PR problem on its hands in the form of a big-news lawsuit—and its lawyers have begun to prepare by contacting affected parties in order to solicit positive testimony. We’re not quite sure that will work.

The story: When Diana Wang applied for an internship at Harper’s Bazaar, her only real goal was to make her mark on the fashion industry. She knew that it wouldn’t amount to a full-time job (it was her seventh unpaid internship), and she told New York Magazine of saving every penny in order to afford the opportunity to work as “head accessories intern” at Bazaar.

The work was considerable: Wang supervised eight other interns, and she claims that editors at the magazine told her that her internship “should be considered a real job.”

Unfortunately, the internship did not lead to the fashion gig she craved—or any other gig. Her supervisor was bold enough to tell her that she wasn’t ready for a job in fashion and that she should consider another internship. With that, she started considering her options. Given the fact that she worked a full-time schedule and drew no discernible benefits from the internship, Wang decided to file a lawsuit claiming that the internship was actually an unpaid job—and 3,000 other former interns joined her.

With the lawsuit set to begin any day now, New York’s fashion blog The Cut received several emails from former Hearst interns who’d been contacted by the company’s lawyer. In the note, the lawyer attempts to solicit testimony regarding the interns’ experience with Hearst. Of course this is a necessary step, but the company needs a whole lot of testimonials to overcome a case collectively filed by 3,000 people.

Hearst has apparently made some changes in the wake of this suit’s filing: the company no longer accepts interns who do not receive documented school credit. Still, we worked unpaid internships, and we think it safe to say that the system is broken: Students go in with the expectation of great job prospects, and employers obviously see it as a source of free labor. Wang now says that the goal of the lawsuit is to reform the internship system–and we have no problem with that.

So will this plan work? How can Hearst overcome this PR challenge? And how does our country’s internship system need to change?

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