The unpaid internship discourse is back again.
In a disseminated jobs market and age where finding the right place to get your foot in the door might be difficult, there’s always a not-so-healthy discussion that takes place over whether unpaid internships are actually worth it.
Those that have taken unpaid internships will tell you that it builds character and the experience is all that matters. On the other side is those that say you should know your worth and that work should never be for free, even if it’s at the place you always wanted to be.
This debate surfaced once again on Monday when a football reporter shared an opening for an internship on Twitter, and the internet went wild.
Jane Slater, a reporter for NFL Network, tweeted an opportunity for an unpaid internship on Twitter offered to broadcast journalism students, which was quickly met with backlash.
“I posted an opportunity for an unpaid internship and I’m amazed the comments I get. It’s not even for me,” Slater said. “It’s for someone else and I would have jumped at it in college. I had 3 unpaid internships in school, double majored and had a job. SMH.”
To sum up Slater’s post, she’s advocating for unpaid work as a way to get your foot int he door. The problem here is unpaid internships can be tailored exclusively for people who can afford to work for free, i.e. people who receive financial support from their parents or carry no student debt, which many people let her know rather quickly.
“I teach at an HBCU. I have incredibly talented students, but not one of them could afford to work for nothing for an extended period,” said Milton Kent, a professor at Morgan State University. “Heck, I have kids who are delivering during class time during the pandemic. I know you mean well, but your reality doesn’t apply to everyone.”
Amy Brown said she had unpaid internships in college, but it was only doable because she had free housing from her parents.
“W had unpaid internships in college and barely scraped by. i was lucky i could live with family for free or else it would have been impossible,” Brown said. “When you expect people in training to work for no money, you rule out those who do not have the economic privilege to work for free.”
Others shared stories about their experiences in unpaid internships including one reporter that said she had a dozen unpaid gigs and even donated plasma on the side.
I had like 12 internships and none were paid. Didn’t even know people got paid to be interns. Worked on top of it. Thankful for bars where the shifts started at 8 or 10p. Also donated a lot of plasma back in the day $$$$ 😂.
— Julia Morales (@JuliaMorales) March 1, 2021
Here are some other supporters:
I turned an unpaid writing opportunity at Bleacher Report into where I am now.
Would have never ever made it 10 years in this business or to ESPN without that chance
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 1, 2021
The phrase "unpaid internship" is looked way down on nowadays. Too many people have no idea how it helps to get a foot in the door that can become your first big job.
— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) March 1, 2021
I worked for the Dodgers single A affiliate in the Inland Empire for $9K one year. I worked for free in the front office of the Improv. I covered high school sports for $40 a game. You need to do everything you can.
— Adam Rank (@adamrank) March 1, 2021
Some were quick to note that Slater had received financial support from her family that afforded her the opportunity to take on unpaid internships. (Her grandfather was the former president of Wolf Brand Chili.)
and also the financial support of your grandfather. And there's nothing wrong with that! But a lot of people don't have a chili baron grandfather whose financial support enables them to work for free. Just something to consider. pic.twitter.com/NkUNpFJW2B
— Jamison Foser (@jamisonfoser) March 1, 2021
Slater made a few other comments including one where she said she made $16,500 in her first two years in the business, saying that she didn’t have time for those who didn’t “understand grind.”
She later released a statement clarifying some of the comments that circulated, including acknowledging that her grandfather had money but she did not grow up rich.
“I acknowledge that I had a grandfather who had money but I did not grow up rich. I always had a job and was taught to value hard work and paying my own bills. Did others have it harder? Absolutely. Which is why I always want and feel compelled to help others when I can,” she wrote in a statement on Twitter.
“I won’t stop trying to help the next generation and I apologize that I came across ‘elitist’ today. Always trying to learn and Twitter isn’t the best place for these debates.”