The Pros And Cons Of Unpaid Internships In Local News

The Pros And Cons
Of Unpaid Internships
In Local News

Written by Lois Lane
🕒 November 12, 2020

Getting your first job after college is something most undergrads worry about for months leading up to graduation.

Not only do internships offer you invaluable experience, they can also lead to connections that may land you a job. However, the unfortunate reality of internships is many (if not most) of them are unpaid.

Journalism students typically apply for internships their junior year. Most interns will find themselves riding shotgun with journalists at their local station. A lucky few will land an internship with a major news outfit like CNN, NBC, or FOX News.

From small market stations to network newsrooms, internships tend to be unpaid.

In fact, finding an internship that actually does pay is an achievement.

Some internships may offer a meal stipend of about $10 per day. Many newsrooms will reimburse your gas, if you use your own vehicle to follow reporters in the field. Outside of those minor payments, it’s unusual for a news internship to offer pay.

Is that fair? Well, it depends on how you look at it.

The Pros: Most reporters will say the experience they gained working at a real news station far outpaced anything they learned in the classroom. The on-the-job training that comes with actually being on the scene at a story is key.

Your journalism teacher may have explained how to lead a story with an attention grabbing SOT. But there’s nothing quite like using the SOT of a house fire survivor, that you’ve met in person, to really drive that writing lesson home.

Depending on the station, some interns may get the opportunity to assist in writing teases, headlines, short VOSOTS, and web stories.

As an intern, if your writing makes it on-air, or online, that’s genuine professional experience you can use for your resume.

The Cons: On the flip side, long hours of work without pay can diminish the morale of even the most dedicated student.

Getting paid for completed work is a basic right. However, often times interns take on some of the assignments of their paid mentors for no compensation. Editing video, transcribing interviews, and lugging gear around may not be the most intellectual journalistic work, but it is still work.

Furthermore, students who dedicate eight hours of their day to an internship, on top of their school work, may not have time to take on a paying job. That’s a financial sacrifice many college students can’t afford.

Interns in other professions, like engineering and the medical field, receive pay well above the income they’d earn in a customer service position.

Hands-on learning, while earning a paycheck, helps students gain valuable experience and feel appreciated.

Newsroom internships offer critical experience to aspiring journalists, providing an endless pool of information. The connections interns make with reporters, photographers, and even news directors could lead to a job post-graduation.

On the other hand, work is work, and newsroom interns should be paid for their time like other professions.

News budgets tend to be tight, and, as we all know, salaries for even full-time employees tend to be low. But if more stations offered even a small amount of compensation, more interns could focus on the experience rather than how to afford the opportunity.

1 Comment

  1. I had an issue with an unpaid internship at a local station this year. Labor law says I technically can’t do any real work, and the expectation was for me to sit there and watch, rather than hands on experience. The ND would fuss at me and reassign me if she caught me doing real work. I also couldn’t put my name on web bylines because that’s “doing somebody’s job that they’re paid to do and against the law”.

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