Intern Action at The Nation Leads to Overhaul of Internship Program
The country’s oldest weekly magazine announces changes to its internship program after Spring 2013 interns communicate grievances over its minimal pay. In response, interns renew their call for a living wage.
The Nation Institute’s Spring 2013 intern cohort won a small but significant victory after pressuring the organization to dramatically change the terms of its internship program. The Nation Institute, the non-profit organization that funds The Nation magazine’s internship program, announced they plan to pay interns a minimum wage and offer financial aid to some interns beginning in the Fall 2013 session. The announcement comes as interns rise up across industries to challenge the widespread acceptance of unwaged or underpaid labor as a natural and stable component of our economy. The forthcoming changes to this 30-year-old program will impact future generations of interns who work at The Nation, Nation Books, the Investigative Fund and The Nation Institute.
In May, at the end of the Spring 2013 session, Nation interns presented the magazine’s staff with a case for changing the exploitative terms of the program. The program required interns to work full-time for a weekly $150 stipend as fact-checkers, researchers, and web assistants, roles that are essential to the functioning of the magazine and institute. The meager weekly stipend forced some interns to make tremendous personal and financial sacrifices. Some interns had to make a choice between groceries or transportation to their internship on particularly tight weeks. Others racked up credit card debt to pay for food or utilities while some temporarily depended on supportive partners. Yet, despite these challenges, the interns were able accept the internship position and make sacrifices that many of their contemporaries cannot afford to make at all.
The Nation Institute agreed to work with the outgoing interns to explore ways of changing the program, with the goal of increasing accessibility to people of color and the working class by increasing the weekly stipend and providing financial aid to some interns in the form of housing and travel grants. In line with these efforts, interns collectively drafted a letter to the editors, which ran in The Nation’s August 19-26 issue. The full text of the letter is as follows:
In publishing Farai Chideya’s “Let’s Diversify Journalism” [June 3], The Nation joined a growing chorus of media insiders denouncing the industry standard of unwaged intern labor, which actively excludes people of color and the working class. As The Nation Institute’s Spring 2013 interns, we recently presented our concerns to the magazine’s editors and fundraisers about its own internship program’s marginal pay. Both The Nation and The Nation Institute verbally committed to work with us to change the terms of the internship program.
The five months we spent working as fact-checking staff were an invaluable learning experience, nurturing us intellectually, professionally and socially. Yet to participate in the program an intern must work full-time for a $150 weekly stipend, an impossible prospect for many of those who are underrepresented in today’s media. As Chideya explains, the unwaged intern pipeline populates the industry with a homogenous staff that “often produces a damaging false consensus” when it excludes people of color and the working class.
We hear of journalism’s impending death all too often, but the eulogies are premature. Journalism isn’t dying; it is changing dramatically. This period of transformation is an opportunity for media outlets to bring new voices to the forefront of knowledge production. Paying interns a living wage would remedy a workplace injustice and renew the vitality and relevance of the press. Likewise, recruiting more interns from public universities and community colleges would enable organic intellectuals from the working class to redefine our nation’s public conversation.
In order to realize a just media economy, in which interns earn a living wage and members of marginalized communities can flourish, we need tenacious and imaginative media leaders. If anyone in journalism has what it takes, we believe it is our colleagues at this magazine. The industry standard must be redefined. We ask The Nation and The Nation Institute to take the lead.
— Alleen Brown, James Cersonsky, Catherine Defontaine, Andrew Bard Epstein, Luis K. Feliz, Elana Leopold, Alec Luhn, Leticia Miranda, Brendan O’Connor, Anna Simonton, Cos Tollerson, Sarah Woolf
In its published reply, The Nation Institute indicated it would follow through on its commitment. It announced via Twitter that Fall 2013 interns would earn a minimum wage. This is a laudable step in the right direction, and we look forward to hearing more about the Institute’s next steps.
The Spring 2013 interns hope that their experiences galvanize interns at other publications (and in other industries) to advocate for their own right to an equitable and just workplace. The cohort has launched a website (http://unpaidlabor.tumblr.com/) where interns across industries can share their experiences as workers who receive little or no compensation. It is one step towards uniting interns in solidarity to demand the rights that all workers should be afforded.