It's the end of an era: publisher Conde Nast is ending its internship program in 2014, making this batch of (unpaid) interns its last.
The change has come about after two former interns sued the publisher in June 2013, but ironically, it seems that those most upset by the end of the program are the prospective interns themselves. Just goes to show how programs like this can continue to exist while flouting labor laws: there is an endless supply of impressionable, eager-to-break-in 18 year-olds. They come from all over the country to line up behind the previous batch and the cycle continues.
This, in the face of any and all bad press or word of mouth. The name, the glamour, the status—it all outweighs fairness, learning or experience opportunities, and financial hardships.
As CNN nostalgically reports, Lauren Indvik, a Vogue intern circa 2008, lost 15 pounds, bought designer clothes she couldn't afford on eBay, and walked long daily distances in heels because she couldn't pay for a MetroCard. All for the privilege of working her butt off for no pay.
Though at first this seems like a testament to hard work and dedication, realistically, only those of a certain amount of privilege can afford to keep up. Though Indvik clearly struggled, someone without any financial support from family or a healthy savings account couldn't afford to eat while working unpaid full time, let alone bid on the clothing necessary to fit in.
So now all the hopeful 20 and 21 year olds are (understandably) upset about the lack of opportunities. When Conde Nast goes through interns like Keurig cups, sure, there's a chance for everyone! But the burden is entirely on the intern's shoulders to beg, borrow, and steal to make it work. Then, when the internship's over, step aside and make room for the next person. You'll have the Conde name on your resume, but do you think anyone at Conde will remember yours?
Yes, fewer unpaid internships mean fewer opportunities, in general. But it could also mean a leveler playing field for young hires, and higher quality opportunities. Since it's no longer a free-for-all, those actually most qualified for an entry level position (re: not just well-connected), will be contenders for the work.
Realistically, anyone can change trash can liners in an office, so those who "fit in" the best culturally--or whose father knows an editor are--most likely to nab unpaid opportunities. But an editorial assistant (the new start point for a Conde career)? That's different. And because an entry level job is paid, those who aren't privileged enough to accept an internship (but are qualified) are now in the well-deserved running.
In short, it might be harder to get a foot in the door without internships. But now, if you do, it's more likely to stay propped open.
--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com
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