Earlier this week, Condé Nast, arguably the biggest magazine publisher in the country, discontinued their internship program for the foreseeable future, likely as a result of two lawsuits brought against the company by former interns at W magazine and New York magazine.
The announcement came via an online post from Women’s Wear Daily — Condé Nast has yet to release an official statement on the discontinuation of the program, though the company has removed information about internships from their website. This announcement, however, is just the latest in a series of reactions to the recent “Great Unpaid-Intern Uprising,” according to New York magazine.
The revolution began when Diana Wang, a former intern at Harper’s Bazaar, sued the magazine’s publisher, Hearst Magazines, two years ago. Wang claimed that interns at Bazaar were doing work that put them at risk, such as running errands while carrying many heavy items, and not receiving the educational experience they were promised. Since then, more unpaid interns have been speaking out against their employers, forcing these publishers to modify their internship programs. This summer, for instance, Condé Nast modified their program to require that interns do not stay at their workplace past 7 p.m., access their email from home or run personal errands for supervisors.
The best solution here, however, is also the simplest: Don’t end the program; just pay the interns.
Students don’t take internships to make money. They take them to explore a field, gain experience, network with professionals and sometimes get college credit. Most understand — at least editorial interns at publications — that there will be some grunt work involved, especially at publishing powerhouses like Condé Nast (think Devil Wears Prada, not The Hills). Internships are stepping stones, but they are work nonetheless. Students sacrifice time that could be spent in class or working at a paid job to take on these internship positions.
It’s no secret that the media industry is hurting financially, but I highly doubt that companies like Condé Nast are unable to sacrifice minimum wage for a few interns. And they should cough up some cash, if not out of the goodness of their hearts, then based on the fact that interns are an integral part of any publications. No editor wants to spend all day compiling research or ordering office supplies or making spreadsheets or keeping track of deliveries. Interns will do it, and will be happy to if it means they can sit in on the weekly edit meeting.
Condé Nast had the chance to set a precedent here. The publisher of hugely prominent magazines like Vogue, Condé Nast holds a unique position as a globally recognized trendsetter, in more than one sense of the word. If the publisher had gone the opposite direction with its program, they would have been paving the way for other magazine companies to follow suit. Now, future generations of potential interns will never have the advantage and privilege of working hard at an internship and getting to put the ever-prestigious Condé Nast name on their resumes.
Interns might be overstepping by suing employers that are essentially doing them a favor by hiring them, and a salary might not impact the value of an internship. But paying workers, intern or not, is just the right thing to do.