I couldn’t believe I found myself asking this question at my unpaid internship this fall at Fox 29.
One of the pitfalls of free labor is no matter how passionate and dedicated you are, your work ethic isn’t considered more impressive simply because you do it without payment.
This past week, I was told by my current internship that I had to stop volunteering my time for more than my scheduled days. This means I only have to come in two out of the current six and sometimes seven days I’ve been interning, and therefore no longer have to wake up at 2 a.m. three days out of the work week.
But I am willing.
I asked my intern coordinator if he’s ever had a problem with an intern wanting to dedicate too much of their free time. He couldn’t think of a similar instance. I was apparently the first to express a concern about working more.
As a young adult, I often find myself to be the most underpaid, yet the most enthused and excited about the industry. So why was the station refusing my free work? According to my intern coordinator, I was taking away opportunities from new interns to the station. However, with the way the media is constantly changing and adapting, I feel there is always so much more to learn professionally, especially in a big city like Philadelphia.
In the past, the expenses of interning haven’t just been about free labor. They’ve also been about the commute. Interning in a different city than the one you’re living in is a quick way to realize the worth of a dollar. I spent two semesters on Megabus to and from New York City and then Washington to work for free. What affected me more than the size of my wallet was the six hours that I was spending a day commuting – my Megabus transportation could have fulfilled the hours of a second internship.
William Newman, my economics professor here at Temple, told me, “You have to weigh the cost of the internship with the experience that you will get to see if it’s worth it.”
By my third semester commuting, when I started interning at NBC News in New York City, I was so accustomed to being unpaid that I found it a burden to fill out all the paperwork and enter my intern hours into a database at the end of each day. I finally cashed my checks at the end of three months, and the banker was overwhelmed and confused by the accumulation.She said she had never seen someone hold on to their paycheck for so long.
I understood her confusion, since most college students are desperately in need of funds, but that’s not why I took the internship. I do it for the experience and to make myself worth more once I graduate.
As a freshman, I attended a Skype session with Mother Jones Environmental Editor Kate Sheppard. She told the group free interning has become political because it forces those who can’t afford free work out of white collar jobs. Experience is still necessary to get a job in a competitive market where most people have college degrees.
Annie Kim, junior pre-med student at Temple, said she would have never taken her summer hospital internship if it wasn’t paid.
“I’m already paying so much per course to get experience in class,” she said. “I want my real world experience to come with all the professional benefits.”
All experience is good experience, paid or not. Your time and energy is valuable so give it the skills and experience it deserves.
I have just accepted another internship with Philadelphia Wedding. With my free time apart from Fox Philly and in between classes, I believe it’s valuable for me to get connected with the city’s news. Now, I’m helping to cover one of the most important days in a person’s life. Interning is one of the most important things to do as a young college student.
Esther Katro can be reached at email@example.com.