Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 185 - "Let My People Go!"

So the title's not a song lyric, but a line from the movie The Ten Commandments.  I find it fitting given what I came across today.

I had just gotten home from work and was sorting through the eighty-some Twitter updates that I had on my phone since my break.  One of them was from Poynter, linking to an article about internships.  Specifically, about student journalists in internships in order to "gain professional experience."

I was intrigued, so I sat down at the computer to check out the article while still sifting through messages.  That's when I came across an update from my college classmate Ashley, who had already blogged about it on her website.  (I guess news travels fast when things are retweeted - is that even a legitimate word?)

Here's the point: major publishers, such as HuffPost and the NY Times, are using student journalists and interns to create content for websites and the like after buying out contracts for hundreds of professional, established writers.  Okay, you may say, that's good that these students are networking and getting experience, yadah yadah yadah.

This is where it gets hairy - they are not being compensated for their work.

For example, journalism students at NYU have been enlisted to help the Times create a new blog called "The Local East Village."  The students are writing, editing, photographing, and working with a deputy metropolitan editor from the Times as - get this - a part of a class called "The Hyperlocal Newsroom."

Excuse me?

Basically, student journalists and interns across the country are getting roped into (or forced if they are required to have an internship to graduate) these "programs" where they do the work of a professional journalist, one who has probably already been laid off or told that they have "become redundant," without appropriate compensation, and in many cases only a byline and clips for a portfolio.

As Ashley put it, this equates to modern day slavery.  Work for no compensation?  I don't think these students are looking for community service hours to work off a residence hall violation.

Some may argue that, well, these students are getting class credit for their work, which eventually turns into a degree and a line on a resume that could land them a paying position with a company that they once basically allowed to enslave them so that they could get through a course requirement in order to get a job in an industry that is about as unstable as they come right now.

Wrong.  I was in one of those communications programs that required an internship, and I interned with a non-profit organization working on press releases, event management, and grant writing.  I more than likely made the organization absolutely no money.  I received course credit, but no monetary compensation, which doesn't bother me one bit.  Why?  Because I genuinely, professionally, benefitted from the experience.  My supervisor took the time out of his schedule to make sure that I learned the skills necessary in order to succeed in the job world.  That outweighed the monetary compensation that I could have received.  It's like the old addage about the fish.  Instead of eating now, I was taught to fish for a lifetime.

For these student journalists and interns, that's not the case.  These companies aren't looking to create an educational experience, but instead are looking to create a quick buck with as little overhead as possible.  And hey, if they can get some kid off the street who needs a couple of credit hours in order to graduate and they can write their way out of a paper bag, then hire him (a.k.a. enslave him) and not compensate him for his work.

The line needs to be drawn somewhere.  Integrity is a huge part of the publishing industry, and how can we as media practitioners continue to hold our heads up and try to save our industry, our way of life, if our future colleagues are basically selling themselves into slavery for a couple of weeks, and then we turn our backs on them when they need a job the most? 

This needs to come to an end.  There are ways to create unpaid internships that are of benefit to both sides, but enslaving journalism students and recent graduates is not going to eliminate overhead, cut expenses, or save the industry.  We have to save ourselves before we can save our craft.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 178 - "Oh. My. God, Becky. Look at her -"

Student loans!  You thought I was going to finish the song lyrics, weren't you?

I was reading through Yahoo! News this evening and I stumbled across this article.  All I can say is that I'm glad I'm not this woman - or going to medical school or into default on my loans.

This makes me think twice about deferring my loans when and if I start graduate school.  I already have a loan that, when I took it out, was $4,300.  Now, with interest compounding on it for three years of college and the nine months since I've graduated, it's now almost a $9,000 loan.  I have made some large payments on it since November, and I have yet to pay anything towards the original principle. 

Not good, my friends.  If this article isn't evidence of what is wrong with educational funding, then I would love to throw the expandafile of paperwork I have related to loans and how many ridiculous payments I am making every month but not sure where they go at someone who has the power to do something about it.  My loans keep getting sold, sometimes to two different companies in a 24 hour time span.

Cripes.  If I have learned anything, it's that I am not taking out any private or non-federal student loans.  Ever.  Again.  It's not worth it - I'll live on generic macaroni and cheese while I finish my master's if it means not taking out loans.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 177 - "We Shall Not Be Moved"

I felt like this should be a separate post because it's different in nature and sympathies.

A recent Poynter update announced that reporters at the Akron Beacon Journal, which is basically my hometown newspaper, have authorized a strike if the Guild (their union) and the publisher don't come to an agreement over their upcoming contract.  The publisher is asking that employees take a 16.75% pay cut and additional cuts in benefits, which amounts to a 25-30% cut in income and benefits.  The Guild just wants a fair contract, and to me losing 30% of one's income and benefits is a little bit of a stretch.

I was talking with someone about this the other day, and they suggested that, well, if the writers went on strike I could get a temporary job with the Beacon until this is all resolved.   Uuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh....

As much as I would love to work in a newsroom again - even for a couple of days or weeks - it's a matter of principle to me.  If I were a teacher and a member of a teacher's union, would I want to cross a picket line of my colleagues who are simply asking for enough to live off of?  Teachers and journalists don't make that much money to begin with, so that large of a pay cut and benefits hurts.  Badly.

Like I said in the conversation, it's not a matter of putting another line on my resume, but it's a matter of taking pride and standing up for my colleagues in the media.  Enough journalists and writers have lost their jobs and a large portion of their livelihood in order to keep a newspaper afloat.  But, with the Beacon Journal having more Pulitzer Prizes than every other paper in the state of Ohio besides one, the publisher needs to realize that quality comes with a price, and those who are going to produce Pulitzer-worthy work are going to have to be compensated appropriately for it.

To top it off, I couldn't be proud of that line on my resume.  I couldn't enjoy going to work every day while people were out there fighting for what they believed is appropriate and right.  It goes against what I believe in and what I stand for, and if it means going without a newspaper for a little while, then so be it.

I'm taking a stand - if you want to continue to deliver quality, appropriate news, then pay the people justly!


Day 177 - "There's Nothing Sweeter Than Summertime - And American Honey"

Today's title is courtesy of Lady Antebellum's new single "American Honey," which might just be my new theme song for now. 

It's been crazy lately.  I finally learned how to do my own taxes, which was long overdue since I'm 23 and that's kind of an essential life skill.  I've applied for financial aid for graduate school (hooray) and learned that, if I play my cards right, the federal government says that I shouldn't have to pay for anything out of pocket for my master's degree.  Yippee!

On top of working, writing, and grad school applying, it's been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote anything.  With that in mind, Matt and I took this past weekend as a little Valentine's Day getaway and went to Pittsburgh.  We spent a romantic night out for dinner and walking around Station Square, which is this really cool strip of stores and restaurants along one of the rivers that used to be a train station.  At night, all of the twinkling lights of the city and the river and being with Matt was absolutely amazing, even if I was in a black cocktail dress and freezing my butt off!  Then Sunday, we went to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Art Museum, which was a lot of fun. 

The museums were fun mainly because of the dinosaurs.  Side story - when I was younger, the bank that held my savings account had a program where, for a $10 deposit in your savings account, you got this really nice (like, Smithsonian catalog nice) dinosaur.  I had almost every one of them and would bury them in my sandbox, only to pretend to be an archeologist and dig them up later.  I thought dinosaurs were the coolest thing since sliced bread.

Now, however, it's back to the real world.  It felt absolutely wonderful to get away for a weekend, but now it's back to working, writing, and waiting for something from grad school about an assistantship interview.  I still have about another two weeks to wait.  When did I get so impatient?