Monday, August 26, 2019

An Internship for Autumn

It seems unlikely that I'll finish my journalism program at UCLA before the baby arrives, but nonetheless, I feel it's important to get as much done as possible while I still can.  It's not unlike the time I ran track in junior high, and face-planted after catching my foot on a hurdle.  Did I get up and keep running?  Yes, of course.  Did I come in dead last?  Absolutely; there was zero chance of recovery at that point.  The more important question is what genius thought I, a five-foot-tall creature sporting the limbs of a corgi, should run hurdles in the first place.

But that story is set in the past and today we'll be looking at the future.  Specifically, the next quarter of classes at UCLA.  The journalism program is designed to take about two years, or eight quarters; I have tasked myself with attempting to finish it in half that time.  Two quarters are down, and the third begins in a month.  The ending of the third quarter unfortunately corresponds almost perfectly with the due date for the baby, jamming a large baby-shaped wrench into the otherwise well-oiled academic schedule I've set.  But sometimes, you just have to handle things as they are thrown at you, particularly if they are babies, because if you don't catch the baby, you'll end up with a lot of people angry at you for dropping it.

 I'm so ready for this baby thing and not at all terrified 
or convinced that I'm going to fuck up hahahahaha.

One of the things that appealed to me about the journalism program at UCLA is that part of it involves an internship.  In my opinion, this lends it some credibility.  It helps students get real-world, applied, hands-on experience, and helps them network and discover potential post-graduation career options while allowing them to develop relationships and accumulate references.

This was what I felt before I saw that taking a quarter-long internship costs $660.

The idea of paying to work was laughable to me, especially since so many internships are unpaid.  The school is not providing any real value here; it's up to the students to seek out and get an internship, and up to the company providing the internship to set expectations and provide work experience.  All the school is doing is simple administrative work, which does not cost $660.

But I had little choice in the matter, so I spent the summer making cold calls to any and every publication company I could think of in the area, trying to get my hands on an internship, aware that I was competing with dozens of other UCLA journalism students trapped in the same position as I.

Happily, I found one.  My trust in "networking" paid off.  I had maintained a friendly relationship with one of my professors from spring quarter and he had put in a good word for me at the Santa Monica Daily Press.  I e-mailed the editor-in-chief multiple times before getting a reply back, and hastened to meet with him and establish seniority over any other potential applicants.

"Whose dick do I have to suck to get an internship?"  
- desperate college students everywhere

In the newspaper industry, internships have long been an entryway to the newsroom.  Many of my professors (who have previously worked at such publications as the New York Times and Hollywood Reporter) got their start as interns.  I plunged into the Santa Monica Daily Press with the starry-eyed optimism plucky young interns always have in sitcoms.  My impression was mixed.  The building was run-down, the hallways stark, and the newsroom musty with the air of a place that struggles to pay rent and keep up with repairs.  On the other hand, I espied two recycling bins and a dog bowl on the floor, indications of a progressive and chummy atmosphere.  I discovered there were only two full-time, staffed reporters - reading between the lines, I understood this meant there would be no job for me at the end of the internship.  I was told I would be writing bylines.  On one hand, a fantastic opportunity.  On the other, a curious reveal.  Was newsprint being kept on life support by a cadre of unpaid interns?
If so, they are in truly dire straits, since interns are universally stereotyped as 
having no clue what they're doing and getting their ties stuck in the copiers.

My internship doesn't begin until next month, leaving me with nothing but the initial impression I got during the interview, which was one of a dying industry.  But it led me to a lot of questions about internships themselves.

One of the major differences between an internship and an apprenticeship is that an internship is for a fixed amount of time, while an apprenticeship is for a fixed amount of skill.  Apprenticeships have been around since time immemorial, with master craftsmen passing down their skill sets to apprentices, but they peaked in the Middle Ages with rules and regulations set by guilds or town councils.  Curiously, apprenticeships were not, like modern internships, typically unpaid.  Apprentices enjoyed food and lodging under their masters, and might also receive a small stipend or portion of profit from their work, if it was good enough.  Apprenticeships typically lasted seven years, almost like an indentured servitude, except with a major payout at the end.  If you, like me, read Grimm's Fairy Tales, then you're aware that most apprentices didn't just graduate automatically into masters, but first became journeymen, who traveled around looking for work and bumping into witches and woodland nymphs who would try to challenge their moral righteousness for some reason.
"So long as no one challenges my scruples as I journey through these magic woods, 
Imma be a blacksmith in no time!"

Turns out, "journeymen" weren't called journeymen because of their nomadic lifestyles.  The word derives from the French word journée meaning "day."  They were day-laborers who worked for a wage; they held licenses and could sometimes be admitted to a guild but weren't allowed to work as self-employed, established "masters."  Masters were guild-members who had created a masterpiece, and often, a requirement to achieve "master" status in a craft required several years of working as a journeyman first.

I, for one, had no idea that the whole apprentice-journeyman-master thing was so heavily supervised and had so many rules.  Especially since, in modern times, apprenticeships were historically poorly regulated.  (One of the earliest attempts was in the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which was such a massive failure that it was declared unconstitutional within two years of being passed.)

The current regulation for apprenticeships is the Fitzgerald Act, passed in 1937, but it doesn't extend to internships.  "Apprenticeships" have a very narrow modern definition and, as it stands right now, there are only about 750,000 "apprentices" in the entire United States.

Meanwhile, there are over 1.5 million interns - about twice as many. The word "intern" originated at the beginning of the 20th century.  Before World War I, the term described a doctor that had a medical degree but lacked a license.  During and after the war, doctors-in-training became known as interns, sort of the equivalent of a medieval "journeyman."  

Thanks in part to "The Devil Wears Prada," interns are now known 
less for their medical acumen and more for their coffee-fetching abilities.

The modern internship was an outgrowth of co-ops in the '60s and '70s, a way for students to gain work experience and try out jobs while attending school.  But it didn't bloom, not truly, until the 1980s, when business schools and government sectors began using the internship as a recruitment tool, according to Forbes.

The unpaid internship arose thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 1947 that created a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (which established the right to minimum wage).  The loophole was that railway brakemen didn't have to be paid for their week-long training period.  After that, nearly any job could offer an unpaid internship, assuming it met six requirements summarized here by Times magazine:

1. The internship must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship must be for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees;
4. The employer derives no immediate advantage from the intern;
5. The intern is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship; and
6. The intern understands that he or she is not entitled to wages. 

Of course,  in modern times, dozens of lawsuits have begun challenging the legality of the unpaid internship, with many interns challenging requirement #4 in particular.  Still, about 60% of internships in the US are unpaid, and more are cropping up every day.  Paid or unpaid, they offer valuable experience; resume audits show that students who held internships are 14% more likely to get a job post-graduation.

For an incredible summary of statistics regarding internships, check out this infograph from

As always, click for full size, or follow the link above to see it in its original format.

My own internship is unpaid, but that doesn't mean it might not pan out into something worthwhile.  If nothing else, it fulfills a requirement of my journalism certification, and without the necessity of interacting with any witches or woodland nymphs.

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