Column that tells unpaid interns to shut up misses a key point

Jun 14th, 2013 | By | Category: News

Journalists should be paid for their work. iStockPhoto

Journalists should be paid for their work. iStockPhoto

By Joe Grimm
Michigan State University
School of Journalism

Talk about missing the point.

In the Philly Post, Victor Fiorillo reacted to a federal judge’s decision that Fox Searchlight Pictures had violated the law by not paying production interns.

The headline on his article said:

Unpaid Interns Need to Shut the Hell Up
The system’s not unfair. Maybe you just suck.

Fiorillo knows the system is fair because he was an unpaid intern himself, explaining that his arduous journey into journalism began when he “happened upon some Philadelphia-related news in Haiti, of all places, where I was vacationing.”

His column includes the admonition, “Some unpaid interns have been complaining about unpaid internships for as long as unpaid internships have existed. And as a former unpaid intern, I am here to tell you that they need to shut up.”

So, there. And what does he say to people who can’t afford unpaid internships? Nothing.

Fiorillo is missing a critical point. Not everyone can afford to vacation in Haiti and then work for free. CNNMoney reported in May on a Fidelity report that said a survey of 750 college graduates showed that they have an average college-related debt of $35,200.

That’s the average. To work for free, students and their families have to pile more debt onto that load. Some just can’t borrow any more money and must work outside their career field to pay for college or support themselves. Unpaid internships discriminate against people of low and modest incomes. The lucky kill themselves by working two jobs at once.

Journalists should support interns who work for free, as well as their efforts to get paid for working. We shouldn’t write headlines telling them they “suck.”

Only by having paid internships will we be able to open newsrooms and other workplaces to talented people of limited means who are being excluded for no reason other than being too broke to donate their labor.

New York Times: “Condé Nast Faces Suit From Interns Over Wages”

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2 Comments to “Column that tells unpaid interns to shut up misses a key point”

  1. Mike Larson says:

    It also seems kind of suspicious that he was vacationing in Haiti and working an unpaid internship while collecting unemployment… I guess unpaid internships are fine if you are willing to scam the system while you are doing them.

  2. Thanks for the rebuttal to Mr. Fiorillo’s post. I’ve been dealing with this for a while. I went back to college at 39 and completed an undergraduate degree in marketing and now at 41 I’m 3 months away from a Masters in Journalism. I’ve been looking for jobs all over the country, and I’ve noticed an increase in the number of unpaid internships over the last 2 years.
    I have a wife and 3 kids and unpaid internship just won’t work. Right now I stay home with our 3-month old while the 5 and 10 years old attend school. I had a job over the summer for a newspaper but I was working 60-70 hours a week for $25K/year. When I did the math, the cost of daycare, and before and after care at school, I was about $600 in the red every month.
    I still believe going back to college was a good thing, but with over $100K of student loan debt and family to support there is ZERO chance that I’m going to work for free.

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