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Modern journalism: Only rich kids need apply.
September 28, 2009 12:23 PM   Subscribe

The Costs of Becoming a Journalist: "Journalists born since 1970 predominantly come from middle class to upper middle class backgrounds. And Journalism ranks third in the list of the most socially exclusive professions, just behind doctors and lawyers." One reason: "a prerequisite for entrance into a career in journalism is at least one internship experience, and ... many, if not most, are unpaid." For some of the problems with unpaid internship: Take This Internship and Shove It
posted by shetterly (70 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think that the internship racket is a big part of it, but journalism school is also a problem. Journalism school is funded like other professional schools: you take out loans like you do for medical or law school, rather than getting grant and assistantship funding the way you do for academic grad school. However, journalists don't make as much money as doctors or lawyers do. Journalism school is a really unappealing prospect, therefore, for students whose parents can't help them foot the bill. There are two ways to get a career in journalism: internships or j-school. Many successful entry-level journalists do both. And both are difficult to do if you don't come from money.

I thnk this is a really big problem for American society. I don't understand why more people aren't talking about it. Do people really want the entire journalism profession to be comprised of people who come from privileged backgrounds?
posted by craichead at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


This same situation is the case for the book and magazine publishing industries.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:36 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do people really want the entire journalism profession to be comprised of people who come from privileged backgrounds?

Yes. A little less than 1% of America wants that.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


And it isn't going to be any easier with the new corporations that accept payment to guarantee a kid an unpaid internship with a good company. This necessarily squeezes out talented but not wealthy talent.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:38 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


More and more, I realize how little I'll miss our current form of journalism once its dead. We can do so much better.
posted by martens at 12:42 PM on September 28, 2009


It is amazing that giant corporations can get away with not paying interns. How is that even legal? I got $10/hr as a computer science intern with a big manufacturing company and all of the companies that I've worked for since then have paid much more than that to interns (at least $20/hour) and two of those were tiny startups. Why doesn't minimum wage come into play here? Is there a specific loophole for internships?
posted by octothorpe at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]




This same situation is the case for the book and magazine publishing industries.


As someone working in book publishing for 9 years I can only say....BA HA HA HA HA HAH. You do not need an expensive graduate degree, nor do you need to have had an internship, to get a job in publishing.
posted by spicynuts at 12:44 PM on September 28, 2009


Knowing someone helps, though.
posted by spicynuts at 12:45 PM on September 28, 2009


You do not need an expensive graduate degree, nor do you need to have had an internship, to get a job in publishing.
It's been a long time since I worked in publishing, but my sense at the time was that to be an editorial assistant you needed an expensive undergrad degree from an Ivy League college or equivalent private liberal arts college, and you needed to be able to live in New York City on a salary that pretty much made it impossible to budget anything for loan payments. The combination effectively blocked most people who weren't upper-middle-class from taking those jobs, although there were a few exceptions.
posted by craichead at 12:50 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


BS condescension. It's not the unpaid internships, it's the poorly-paid jobs. This country is full of smart, ambitious working class people, aggressively pursuing the careers that will get them to the upper middle class and beyond. Journalism is basically one step removed from professional poet in terms of its suitability to achieve that goal.
posted by MattD at 12:55 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


you needed to be able to live in New York City on a salary that pretty much made it impossible to budget anything for loan payments

This describes 90% of the jobs in NYC.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:00 PM on September 28, 2009


I had read not too long ago that summer internships were often a racket: college kids got taken on as interns, told it would be good for their resume, and got paid next to nothing. They learned little and discovered that they were a cheap source of free labor--unfortunately illegals could not get this work because of language problems.
posted by Postroad at 1:06 PM on September 28, 2009


This same situation is the case for the book and magazine publishing industries.

Do major book publishers have interns these days? They didn't back when I was an editorial assistant at Ace Books. My experience was somewhere between spicynuts' and craichead's--I walked in off the street with a resume in hand, knowing no one, but I was a Beloit College grad, which had to have helped.
posted by shetterly at 1:06 PM on September 28, 2009


Unpaid internship in and of itself is not a problem. In combination with the "race to the bottom" trend, wherein we puke out the least possible product which is still acceptable, for the fewest dollars, it is bleach to ammonia.
posted by adipocere at 1:10 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


spicynuts, I'm seconding craichead here. I remember being interviewed by Simon and Schuster for a mid-level editing job that paid in the 20s--in 2003. They loved me, they were impressed by my test/references/experience, but they were going to pay me less than I'd made as a secretary in Texas.

Who can live on that in NYC (or even close by, Jersey ain't really cheap), fer chrissakes? People w/ money and people whose spouses are supporting them.

And certainly one reason I got another, slightly better-paying job in a more obscure corner of publishing was that as a college student, 8 years previous, I interned for free one summer with an editor in Texas who knew the lady I was interviewing with in NYC. Publishing can be a small and incestuous world.

This FPP is a nice illustration of why journalists so often seem to be out of touch with the non-wealthy and why every other new piece of serious fiction seems to involve white upper class New Yorkers feeling angst.
posted by emjaybee at 1:12 PM on September 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


This country is full of smart, ambitious working class people, aggressively pursuing the careers that will get them to the upper middle class and beyond. Journalism is basically one step removed from professional poet in terms of its suitability to achieve that goal.
Journalism is sold as an upper-middle-class job with a middle class income people are willing to accept, but the nature of supply and demand is such that far, far more people want to become journalists than there are journalism jobs available... so the selection process comes down to who is willing to pay the most dues and make enough connections, which is a selection process that favors those with the resources to pay dues and pre-existing connections.

I'd say that the real issue is that the country is full of smart, ambitious working class people but that there aren't enough jobs in the country for them, so instead of becoming journalists, they end up with a job in sales.
This FPP is a nice illustration of why journalists so often seem to be out of touch with the non-wealthy and why every other new piece of serious fiction seems to involve white upper class New Yorkers feeling angst.
Well, the other problem is that you have a generation of journalists obsessed with their lack of "real America" bona fides, which seems to have generated a certain amount of class insecurity, if not learned helplessness, when it comes to how they deal with those giving them abuse for their class-insulation-- which, since their class is obsessed with their own isolation, only feeds on itself.
posted by deanc at 1:18 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's a tough situation. Newspaper and magazine spots are highly coveted and have tons of applicants so they can be very choosy and completely un-meritocratic in their hiring practices, plus they don't have to pay well even if you get a job.

On the other hand the entrance barrier to becoming a writer is now very low thanks to the web. There are tons of web magazines out there that can be a good source of clips if you're starting out (yes I realize that they also don't pay but at least you can get published to gain a toehold in the industry). I think to most editors really good clips are as good as or better than J-school on a resume.

Overall though the fact of the matter is that it's a troubled industry, largely losing money and at the wages it pays it's a job few people can afford to have anyway, even if they can get their foot in the door.
posted by Marnie at 1:18 PM on September 28, 2009


The classic quote on this was made a while ago, by Mimy Smartypants:
those glamour jobs at name-brand magazines are just about impossible to come by, being mostly reserved for either nepotism purposes or trust-fund babies who can afford a year or two of an unpaid internship, and the people I know professionally usually work on scientific or technical journals, or in various industry throwaways about computers or travel, or on in-flight magazines, or at hard-to-mention-socially publishing houses-like the acquaintance of mine who got a job at a publisher of third- or fourth-tier “men’s magazines.” One of the titles in their catalog was something called Forced Enema. Personally I would have taken great pride in being tapped as the editor of Forced Enema but he did not.
posted by ijsbrand at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


...the entrance barrier to becoming a writer is now very low thanks to the web.

It was low enough for me to get through, but now I'm finding myself unable to get down that low. (Limbo Time!)
posted by wendell at 1:24 PM on September 28, 2009



Who needs to go to journalism school or have fancy qualifications to get a job as a journalist ?

Even at that, what passes for journalism these days usually isn't - from Jayson Blair's fiction to Judith Miller's breathless stenography - journalism is most under attack by, well, journalists.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:33 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is why the best journalism in the country is done by local alt-weeklies. The Stranger, the various New Times (pre-Village Voice, sadly), Santa Fe Reporter - these are usually staffed by the kind of old-school press-card-in-hat journalists who write about complex and important local issues instead of the godawfully stupid shit the Sandra Tsing Lohs write about.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


More and more, I realize how little I'll miss our current form of journalism once its dead. We can do so much better.

This makes me sad. Rest in peace, Cronkite and Jennings.
posted by swerve at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2009


Well, hey, at least this problem will become less and less of an issue as the traditional news media goes the way of the Steller's sea cow. The writers of this article seem very concerned about "master narratives that have victimized the working class for decades," but the good news is that now anyone with a library card and the most basic of computer skills can set up a blog and make their voice heard in online communities.
posted by PunkSoTawny at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2009


I was hired as a journalist at a magazine because I was making plenty of submissions anyway, and eventually part-time became full-time (I've since gone back to part time). We also had unpaid interns. I can tell you, as someone who was working on a salary, that the unpaid interns racket is deplorable. There's really no proper justification for it. I will say, though, that there are varying degrees of miserableness when it comes to how interns are treated.

On the bottom rung, you have interns who are essentially gofers. They're sent on marginally work-related errands such as picking up lunch, going down to the store to buy more pens, or more batteries for the dictaphones, or are sent out to take photographs of stock images for news stories (the police station, city hall, children playing in a schoolyard, etc.) and not much else. They might be asked to proofread. They might be allowed to write a 300-word opinion piece, or do some uncredited googling.

Near the top, you have responsible journalists who take interns out into the field with them, to press conferences, to interviews, to job sites. They'll work together on researching a piece, sometimes dividing up interview duties for feature articles. They're given credit in the by-line. They are, for all intents and purposes, unpaid co-journalists who are getting a hands-on education in how journalism operates on the ground instead of in the classroom.

What these two types of interns have in common is both will tolerate their duties without salary because it will build their resume. They won't complain, ever, no matter what you make them do, because they have their eyes on the prize. Editors and journalists know this, and some take better advantage of this than others. If you want to judge how a paper is run, look at how they treat their interns.

The justification for unpaid internship reminds me of what this restaurant manager once told me, when he hired me as a waiter and told me to spend the first week in the kitchen, watching, so I'd understand what was on the menu and be able to answer questions. Great idea, but how much will I be paid for this? I asked. "Paid? Are you kidding? When you go to college, do they pay you to learn?" he asked, completely incredulous. I bit my tongue and stood in the kitchen all week, because the waiters were taking him about 80 dollars a night.

That's sort of how it is with interns, too, only their future is less uncertain - they'll bite their tongues and tolerate it because they believe it might lead to something better. There are no 80 dollar nights guaranteed to them. The system only continues because it's always been that way.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:46 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


anyone with a library card and the most basic of computer skills can set up a blog and make their voice heard in online communities.

How many people are doing that?

How many people are reading those voices?

How many such voices have you encountered today?
posted by Miko at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


I must have lucked out, because I got paid $10 an hour as a journalism intern. However, I worked for a well-regarded business publication in the Midwest where there may have been less competition. They also didn't seem to mind that I didn't some from one of the state's journalism schools, just a liberal arts college with a journalism program.
It was interesting experience for someone who ended up at a daily local newspaper after graduation, although I may have been better off taking a job in sales. They had worse grades than I did but they actually make a living. :) I guess that's the price to be living the dream or something.
posted by greatalleycat at 1:56 PM on September 28, 2009


Have there been many successful working-class journalists of historical note? I can think of Studs Turkel, maybe. The internship situation is a given, certainly, but growing up around the powerful requires a certain income bracket, for the most part, which seems to be a prerequisite for making the kinds of personal connections needed to be successful in most any career that involves working for those few people at the top making the decisions.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2009


which seems to be a prerequisite for making the kinds of personal connections needed to be successful in most any career that involves working for those few people at the top making the decisions.

For journalists, I don't think it's a prerequisite to be already tight with the rich and powerful. Publishers, though, yes, if they want to build a readership, which is built on advertising, thus increasing how nice the paper can look, what kind of quality they can afford to buy from their journalists, how many papers they can print and distribute, and thereby build the paper's prestige, so that the rich and powerful will even agree to be interviewed by such-and-such paper.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:02 PM on September 28, 2009



This is why the best journalism in the country is done by local alt-weeklies. The Stranger, the various New Times (pre-Village Voice, sadly), Santa Fe Reporter - these are usually staffed by the kind of old-school press-card-in-hat journalists who write about complex and important local issues instead of the godawfully stupid shit the Sandra Tsing Lohs write about.


Actually, they do the same thing with internships and low pay and are also staffed by mostly middle class people. I know because I freelanced for the Voice in the 90's.

I agree that interns should get a living wage and that the fact that they don't and the reliance on connections to get these jobs keeps many working class people out. This is a known problem-- and many newspapers and magazines actually have paid internships for minorities as an attempt to address this. Obviously, it's not enough-- but these certainly do exist and do help some poor and working class African Americans and Latinos get into the field.

Second, there are occasionally other ways around this. While growing up basically middle class, I did do internships in high school at local cable tv stations that I could not have done had I had to work a job during high school. But they weren't really the way I got into journalism.

That happened because while I was deeply involved with drugs, I started writing freelance for High Times (for pay! one of my checks paid for a week at a halfway house I entered for rehab, the flight there was covered by a free plane ticket to anywhere I'd acquired from a delayed flight to bring drugs somewhere).

When I stopped shooting up, I was so horrified by the fact that people were prepared to let IVDU's die rather than provide clean needles, I started writing about that for the Village Voice, again for (minimal but real) pay. The recession of the early 90's meant I couldn't really support myself as a freelance writer-- but sheer luck had me answer an ad in the Village Voice that landed me a job as an associate producer for the then-local WNET tv show, "Charlie Rose." That paid enough money to live on in the city-- and after working there for three years, I moved up and moved on to become an author and successful freelance writer.

I wouldn't recommend becoming a drug addict as a route into journalism-- but that is what turned out to happen for me.

And so, while there are real barriers to working class people getting jobs in journalism, at least some basic middle class (not wealthy) people can get in who don't have connections but do have luck and a lot of persistence. The recession now has probably made it the worst time ever to start, though.
posted by Maias at 2:06 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


The top journalists of old were working class: Jimmy Breslin, Carl Bernstein most notably.
posted by Maias at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


If we are talking journalists in the upper reaches of the profession this is true. My class from college produced a truly astounding number or prominent well known journalists working for the likes of the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. They are all over privileged upper middle class folks just like me. Some of them may have come from working class families but that was all negated by going to Privilege U. However, I know a number of other journalists, not nearly as successful and who make much less of an impact who came from fairly ordinary backgrounds. The big media outlets have become too tough to crack for future Studs Terkels, at least for the most part. The internet provides an opportunity though for the motivated average joe to become the crack reporter, but even here the field is dominated by the privileged, like Josh Marshall. TPM is perhaps the best political blog out there and actually has real reporting but he is another Ivy League reporter like most of the rest of the best.
posted by caddis at 2:11 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The only journalism class I took was during high school. I did my unpaid internship as the editor of my local PTA unit's newsletter. And I knew someone who knew someone who was about to quit writing an area-specific, local newsy column in one of our local weeklies. And here I am, 25 years later, still writing features for them although the column no longer exists.
posted by Lynsey at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2009


I don't know why anybody would want to be a journalist when all journalists do all day is try to get jobs that aren't in journalism. Don't most journalists just go off into publicity jobs anyway these days, eventually? I think the working class kids are being smart by avoiding the field.
posted by anniecat at 2:14 PM on September 28, 2009


Back in 1990, when I was an intern for the San Diego Tribune, I was writing bylined stories by the end of the first week, doing all the things reporters (and in my case, reviewers) were supposed to be doing, and getting paid around the same amount on a weekly basis that cub reporters got -- in other words, it was a real job, with real journalistic experience, which I then capitalized on first by using the clips to get freelance writing gigs during my fourth year of college, and then using those clips to get my first full-time newspaper job.

In my opinion this is how internships are supposed to work: the intern does real work, get paid real wages, and learns real skills to get a real job in the industry.

One major problem I have with unpaid internships is that I don't see the internships leading to much else; they exist as a level of unpaid grunt work that don't offer anything really useful skillwise.

Back when I was a college student I was already doing unpaid journalism -- it was called my college newspaper. That was fair; being unpaid at professional paper would not be. I would have turned down an unpaid internship, one because I wouldn't have been able to afford to work over the summer without being paid, two because I'm philosophically opposed to not being paid for my work and always have been.

I'm not sure that paid internships exist anymore; I certainly hope they do, but if they don't then the lesson journalism should take away from it is that they will ultimately get what they pay for.
posted by jscalzi at 2:15 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


However, I meant to add, I was born before 1970....
posted by Lynsey at 2:15 PM on September 28, 2009


Actually, they do the same thing with internships and low pay and are also staffed by mostly middle class people. I know because I freelanced for the Voice in the 90's.

I'm sure they're bad about interns like everyone else but the alt-weekly writers I know came from modest means, make jack shit, and eat ramen, and are in journalism because they love it, not because they want to write about their fictional friends' husbands' online fennel clubs.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:23 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]




This same situation is the case for the book and magazine publishing industries.


It's actually worse in magazines. As recently as 10 years ago, most newspapers I was acquainted with did offer paid internships. I know, because I was recruiting for a pretty big one but working with lots of smaller ones who were all paying in those days. But magazine internships were nearly always unpaid, which led to a situation where students at Smith or Bryn Mawr could afford internships because daddy could support them for the summer. But good luck to anyone else. They were shut out. It had a damaging longterm effect, I think, on racial and class diversity of the workforce, which in turn affects content.

I also think that the internet and the inclination to pay garbage to most workers is partially at fault. Every single day, I am seeing a decent newspaper job emptied out, a good reporter tossed aside and replaced by someone who knows how to do coding but doesn't know much about reporting but who will work for half the pay. And the salaries weren't huge to start with. One of the untold stories of the recession is what I fear is the permanent loss of a lot of good jobs, replaced by crap jobs, with crap quality that no one seems to care about. When you've got the same corporate people who made terrible, terrible decisions in recent years to laden these papers with debt but are still in charge, looking for ways to cut costs, it's the salaries they target first. Quality, value the the fundamental purpose of a newspaper, all are tossed out the window in the name of corporate recovery.

As far as middle-class, yes, there's been a ridiculous transformation in the makeup of newsrooms in recent years. It used to be very much lower-middle class in most places, though the big papers always had their favorites from Harvard and Yale. I really do think its one odd side effect of Watergate, which started drawing in people looking for stardom. But for many of us who started in the 1970s, getting a newspaper job was a step up the ranks from our own upbringings, even if the money at the first jobs wasn't as good as our blue-collar fathers made. There was hope of moving up the ranks to a decent salary in a good and honorable profession, though never to the income you see the Howie Kurtzes or Thomas Friedmans hauling in. Please do not think that the average person in your daily fishwrap newsroom is making anything close to what you see the so-called stars of print making, especially when they're selfish enough to grab second and third gigs, like TV shows, that other people need.

As far as class: yes, a lot of very, very good people come out of the working class, though again, it's generational, mostly. Pete Hamill, and the previously mentioned people, and many outstanding people you may not have heard of. You don't cut your teeth working at the White House. You do it digging for stories, working nights and weekends under lousy conditions, and after awhile, you might wind up at the state house or the Washington bureau.
Here's the thing--people didn't used to go into journalism to become famous and TV talking heads. This celebritifcation (sorry, horrible word) that infects our entire society applies to journalism, too. And it means getting along help you get a fancy gig and makes you forget what the job is for.
posted by etaoin at 2:35 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Data point: I was not a privileged kid. I had a journalism internship that helped ease me into the industry (and oooh how glamorous it is). I interned at the magazine during the day and earned a living at a restaurant at night.
posted by Eater at 2:53 PM on September 28, 2009


It's not cheap or easy -- like every other j-school grad, I had to intern for a month unpaid in another city -- I resented the implication that my work was unworthy of a paycheck (not to mention the arrogance that people should be *grateful* for the chance to get to work there) -- but it's a silent way of creating a glass ceiling and skewing the perspective of how stories are presented...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:14 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Up until about a year ago, when I decided to get out of the whole wretched racket because, as a freelancer, it was becoming harder and harder to get work, I spent 12 years as a journalist. During that time, I often ended up being one of those folk on a seminar panel advising student journalists or aspiring wannabes how to get into journalism, though to be honest my advice was mostly "don't". The pay is shit; the rewards are mostly shit; the effect you have is minimal, even if you're crusading for what you believe in. But at the same time ... when things come together, there are few more rewarding jobs.

The current situation is a confluence of a number of unfortunate factors in combination: the horrific state of the newspaper industry in general, the economy, the increasingly base level which both print and broadcast news is willing to sink to in order to get eyeballs, the slashing of budgets.

Here in the UK, the middle-class provenance of most up and coming journalists – because those without independent sources of income cannot afford to take internships, or, for that matter, junior jobs paying twelve grand a year – is taken as a given. So the sons and daughters of already established hacks get the internships, through a combination of nepotism and rich parentage. And the whole cycle repeats.

I mentioned this in a previous thread about the future of journalism, but it bears repeating here. No matter how much your New York Times columnists are being paid, the average salary for the average journalist, working on a small regional newspaper is – drum roll – about £17/18 thousand. (in dollar terms: $24-26k, give or take). And on national titles in the UK, it's not much better: the average there is £40k. When you take into account that this average usually includes several celebrity columnists on anything up to £1m a year, then things look even worse.

Journalism has never been an egalitarian profession – it's always been stuffed full of sons and daughters and nieces and newphews and friends and acquaintances who have had the right connections. But the way things are going at the moment, it's increasingly likely that sons and daughters and nieces and newphews and friends and acquaintances who have had the right connections are going to be the only ones who end up there.

And that would be a fucking disaster.
posted by Len at 3:50 PM on September 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also, note that this is a British survey. I don't think things are significantly different here but I don't recall a study of what American journalism is doing.
posted by etaoin at 3:56 PM on September 28, 2009


In my junior year of high school, I was an unpaid intern journalist (the good kind, who got several bylines but never had to fetch anyone coffee) for one of our city newspapers.

In my senior year of high school, I was a paid intern programmer for a national lab.

In neither case was the salary a real consideration; that lab internship paid about what I could have made at a grocery store, and only gradually got better when I returned in future summers.

The paid internship was valuable entirely for the experience. I learned C/C++/Unix, plus a little college-level abstract algebra and vector geometry, and I impressed people who would write me recommendation letters both months and years later.

The unpaid internship was far, far more valuable, entirely due to the experience. I learned to never become a newspaper reporter.
posted by roystgnr at 4:03 PM on September 28, 2009


I like upper middle class people from good schools. They're smart, funny and many of them are good writers. They've usually been around a bit, seen something of the world, are painfully aware of the potential limitations being of their class might place upon their world view, and so bend over backward to overcome it. Those who are journalists take their jobs super seriously, they've often read widely, and they're also usually pretty hard workers. Upper middle class people are really excellent, and to complain that any profession as crucial to democracy, yet as poorly paid as journalism is dominated by this excellent class (and it is an excellent class -- ask any working class person), is damned foolish. These people don't HAVE to go into journalism.
posted by Faze at 4:04 PM on September 28, 2009


"Why doesn't minimum wage come into play here? Is there a specific loophole for internships?"

Yes. Unpaid internships are a loophole. The restriction is that you can't do anything valuable to the company; I assume this rule is bent but not... reported.
posted by pwnguin at 4:11 PM on September 28, 2009


Unpaid internships violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.
posted by kenko at 4:21 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Upper middle class people are really excellent

For some reason this particular phrase is the most hilarious thing I've read in a long time. It's like some deeply weird party slogan from an alternate-past Maoist-Capitalist regime.
posted by regicide is good for you at 4:25 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


So I could go to a trade school for a few thousand dollars and maybe 18 months and train to be a plumber, after which I'd be pretty much guaranteed more work than I could handle and an income of $40-$60K per year, maybe a lot more if I start my own company.

Or I could spend four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars getting a degree that will earn me $25K a year, if I'm lucky enough to get a job.

It's no wonder the upper middle class is over-represented in journalism. They're the only ones who can afford to do it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:28 PM on September 28, 2009


One word: ghostwriters.

How many in here are ghostwriters? I'll bet 20% of Metafilterians are or were at some point in their career.
posted by elpapacito at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2009


Another great working class journalist was Keith Waterhouse in the UK...

This whole article is sort of droll in that it an American college Web site citing a British Cabinet Office survey on the state of journalism. In the UK, I don't think they have yet caught up with our Stateside media-pocalypse. And so I think the study contemplates a world in which journalism is still a middle-class career path. In contrast, the commencement speaker at my old school here in the U.S. described it as a "dying industry."
posted by johngoren at 4:34 PM on September 28, 2009


Well, back in the dark ages when I worked in journalism, the unpaid internship lead to paid jobs because I was there when they needed someone, and knew what I was like to work with. So that was an advantage, even if the nonpaid work thing wasn't the best for nine months.

Of course, these days it probably wouldn't lead you to a job, so...*sigh*
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:48 PM on September 28, 2009


I did a brief unpaid journalism internship in college, back in 2000, when I was considering my options. For all the terrible decisions I've made and lamented, not once have I been sorry that I didn't try to go into journalism. It wasn't just the lack of money, it was the lack of respect. No respect coming in, no respect going out, which makes it a lot harder to put up with no money coming in, no money coming out. No hope of reward -- even the purely intangible reward of satisfaction with your job. But at least these were alt-weekly people. They could see the internet coming like a hammer, and soon so could I.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be fair: upper class journalists are far easier to satirize.
posted by thivaia at 5:29 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Countess, you made the right call.
posted by johngoren at 5:39 PM on September 28, 2009


The top journalists of old were working class: Jimmy Breslin, Carl Bernstein most notably.

Bernstein was a red-diaper baby; I don't know that that's quite the same thing.
posted by Diablevert at 6:08 PM on September 28, 2009


Unpaid internships are bad enough: internships you have to pay for are even worse.

Yes, a certain percentage of wealthy, privileged people are excellent writers and make excellent journalists. Probably at least the exact same percentage of poor and disadvantaged people would make excellent journalists, but they're far less likely to get the chance. Therefore, you've got a bunch of people who are excellent journalists and a bunch of people with rich parents, which is a hell of a way to run a railroad. (See also: US government; UK government.)

And as Diablevert points out, Carl Bernstein didn't grow up "working class"--he grew up a left-wing bohemian, the child of an attorney who became a union organizer, in a posh suburb which then had outstanding schools. Although the family suffered financial reversals as a result of McCarthyism, "having little money" and "working class" are not synonymous in the US, especially when it comes to educational and professional horizons and goal-setting.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:01 PM on September 28, 2009


When was this different? I don't know anything about this subject. Was there a time when a significant number of journalists were "working class"?
posted by Danila at 7:31 PM on September 28, 2009


More news about how the news isn't news. Bye newspapers, thanks for sucking.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 7:53 PM on September 28, 2009


I'm pretty sure Bernstein didn't graduate or possibly even attend college, however-- so he didn't take the middle class route into journalism.
posted by Maias at 8:09 PM on September 28, 2009


I think breaking into the journalism field is possible without a rich background. But the profession doesn't seem to provide sustainable revenue for becoming or staying middle class. My undergrad degree in journalism from a good state school left me with about $13,000 in debt. I received moderate support from my parents, and paid the rest my own way. I worked a paid internship, two years of low-paying work at the college newspaper, and 3 years of work at small to medium size daily papers. I never made more than $12 an hour, and I'm fairly certain I was one of the better paid staffers. I quit journalism for good and started law school. I may have a lot more student debt now, but my entry-level job pays twice as much as I ever made at a newspaper. There's no way I could even think of going back to journalism and supporting my family on a reporter's salary.
posted by Happydaz at 10:24 PM on September 28, 2009


Sounds like the secret is don't go to j-school
posted by regicide is good for you at 11:00 PM on September 28, 2009


I thought about J-school after college. I'd written for my school paper, had tons of clips, some of which even made it through my editors without typos being added or ignored, had good references, etc. Given the state of the industry now, I'm really thankful I didn't take on any extra debt to do so. Although I ded make a little extra scratch in grad. school as a "music corresponsdent," basically getting tons of free CD's to review. And that led to a little bit of freelance editing for various things. I guess my point is, people who really want to make a career out of journalism can certainly do it, but the whole notion of a pedigree (J-school, two years of unpaid internship, etc.) seems absolutely fucking ridiculous nowadays.

Get a blog. And tell David Broder to go fuck himself.
posted by bardic at 11:02 PM on September 28, 2009


How many in here are ghostwriters? I'll bet 20% of Metafilterians are or were at some point in their career.
posted by elpapacito at 4:30 PM on September 28 [+] [!]


This atrazine fucker only pays me $3 an hour to write his comments. I retaliate by writing crappy ones.
posted by atrazine at 12:53 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


journalism is most under attack by, well, journalists.

I would not describe Rupert Murdoch as a journalist, myself.

More news about how the news isn't news. Bye newspapers, thanks for sucking.

Yes, I'm sure more Fox News and Huffington Post will only improve society.

Also, note that this is a British survey.

Once upon a time, you started out as a cadet reporter - an apprentice, in effect - and got paid to work as a junior. If you survived getting chewed out by the real reporters, you might be allowed to become one. That's based on my contact with Kiwi and British journos over the age of, say, 40.

Now, not so much. It's just as well Saint Murdoch came to the British newspaper industry to crush the newpaper unions and overthrow the terrible old order to bring in our new, improved journalism.

But the profession doesn't seem to provide sustainable revenue for becoming or staying middle class.

This is unlikely to change. The aforementioned Ms Huffington, after all, has demonstrated that she can make herself even richer by providing a well-marketed platform for people who will write all manner of things for free. If you want your favourite loony anti-vax screeds, you don't have to pay for it, just hit a web browser.

"Free content", whether it's publishers or audiences ripping off the people doing the work, will be the death of a lot of currently viable professions.

That said, I find the assumption that the work of anyone whose parents have money must automatically be suspect more than a little annoying, but I guess the triumph of identity politics over qualatitive analysis is just the piss icing on the Murdochian shit cake.
posted by rodgerd at 2:15 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That said, I find the assumption that the work of anyone whose parents have money must automatically be suspect more than a little annoying,

It isn't that their work is suspect but that their life experiences and values are different from the working class. If you have never experienced living from paycheck to paycheck without a safety net, without health insurance, than it is harder to imagine the ramifications of job loss or work injury or new legislation. Do you remember that story a few months ago about that wealthy kid that hit the streets without a penny and lived among the lower class for a year? He got a series of jobs and "pulled himself up by his bootstraps" as it were. On the surface it was the Great American Success Story all over again. Except that he started with privileges that the poor don't have: he was well educated, he was well spoken, he was healthy, and he knew how to dress and act to impress. Plus he didn't have friends and family that were anchoring him down: a bedridden mother who needed him to take time off from work, a drug addict brother who stole from him, a three month old daughter who needed expensive medicine, a circle of friends urging him to stay out all night drinking. He crowed about his accomplishments and the press ate it up, except that he was never really poor and there was no real danger that he would not succeed.

I like upper middle class people from good schools. They're smart, funny and many of them are good writers. They've usually been around a bit, seen something of the world, are painfully aware of the potential limitations being of their class might place upon their world view, and so bend over backward to overcome it.

This is how it starts. The upper middle class, the aristocrats, are the pretty people, the likeable people. Of course you want to spend time with them. The poor become dumber and uglier in your rearview mirror. The scum of the earth. Why should MY taxes go to help out their worthless butts? If they can't afford medical insurence on their own, better they should just die off. Survival of the fittest, don't you know.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Plus he didn't have friends and family that were anchoring him down: a bedridden mother who needed him to take time off from work

Well, don't forget that the entire experiment ended when his mother (or another relative) did get sick and he cut his experiment short to head home.

I like upper middle class people from good schools. They're smart, funny and many of them are good writers.

I never said that they didn't write great movie and music reviews. Travel writing, too, is one of their great genres. Since it's a form in which they're essentially writing for themselves and their own people, it works pretty well. What you miss in your effort to praise them as "bending over backward to overcome" their limitations in their world view is that they "bend over backwards" in the same way to serve the interests and perspectives of their journalistic colleagues and editors/publishers who themselves come from their same background. That's not really impressive, particularly when there are lots and lots of talented writers out there-- many more than the US economy has room for. Under these circumstances, journalists are going to choose their colleagues from among people that are a lot like them: not only in their original perspective/background but in their willingness to "bend over backwards" in the exact same way as they do.
posted by deanc at 8:10 AM on September 29, 2009


On the other hand the entrance barrier to becoming a writer is now very low thanks to the web.

Yeah, I was thinking about that. Aren't blogs rapidly becoming a distinct form of journalism in and of themselves? Is that helping the demographic disparity any? I don't know, it seems like it's also an advantage to be an upper middle class white blogger, gifted with free time and internet access. But I don't really know for sure - are there working class news blogs with large followings? Furthermore, do working class folks read blogs as much as the "elite" do? I haven't really been following the habits of library patrons, but I don't get a sense of much blog reading, unless we're talking MySpace blogs which tend to be personal in nature and less focused on "news."

that now anyone with a library card and the most basic of computer skills can set up a blog and make their voice heard in online communities.

Yeah, but do they? I've used my library card and basic computer skills on many an occasion when in-home internet was unavailable to me, but I sense that I'm the exception here, not the rule. Do you have any example of blogs primarily run by library access? I kind of think that this is a red herring. For a successful blog, you need constant updates, and if you're using the internet for half an hour a day via library, you hardly have time to write articles let alone cultivate a following.

Blogging still seems to favor those with excess income and free time, not the working class.

(Or yeah, what Miko said.)

Also: having just finished Season 5 of The Wire, I lament the fact that journalism seems to be just as twisted in its aims as all other for-profit enterprises.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:48 AM on September 29, 2009


I like upper middle class people from good schools. They're smart, funny and many of them are good writers.

Huh. I like people from all classes and all kinds of schools. They're smart, funny and many of them are good writers...

But few of 'em are able to go into journalism.
posted by shetterly at 10:43 AM on September 29, 2009


Well, I'll say this: my girlfriend has *two* internships and works almost a forty hour week slinging coffee at nights. She's gone by 7:30 in the morning, and never home before 12:30 at night. Is it easy? Hell no. Can anybody do it? Nope. But she's driven and she has a plan for herself and she's making sacrifices. She's from a single parent household; her mom is a teacher. Why is this relevant? Because people who dismiss whole industries as nothing more than privileged rich white kids are pissing on those of us who are none of those things and have busted our asses to get where we are. On the internet, I'll just dash off a little diatribe and close the window, a little more pissed off than before. In real life, anyone with the gall to say or imply something like that to my face will be lucky if they're just told they can go suck a bag of dicks.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2009


I had an unpaid internship as a senior in college. I walked out after a few weeks when i realized I was just a free secretary.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:21 PM on October 2, 2009


people who dismiss whole industries as nothing more than privileged rich white kids are pissing on those of us who are none of those things and have busted our asses to get where we are.

Amanojaku, noone is dimissing your girlfriend or the efforts of people like her. What they are dismissing is the fact that since your girlfriend is not from a privledged background, she needs to have the schedule she does now just to maybe break in the industry. If the industry was more fair to working class people like your girlfriend, her internships would be paid, and she could give up slinging coffee at night to focus on doing real paid work and learning about the field of her choice.

Chill!
posted by WeekendJen at 2:25 PM on October 2, 2009


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