Mutual deficit

The expression “bite the hand that feeds” mentions nothing about retaliation against an appendage that fails to provide. A few days ago, a former Harper’s Bazaar intern filed a lawsuit for unpaid work against the title’s parent company, Hearst.

Unpaid positions are common in the world of media internships. I turned down a job at the National Science Foundation last summer because it was unpaid.

I, like many others, cannot (or choose not to) afford three or four months of city living in NYC., L.A., or D.C.

Yes, this is about money.

A labor lawyer from a 2010 NYT article — at the time, covering the rise of unpaid internships due to the economy — said there should be a “mutual benefit test.” In other words, both the employer and intern should gain something from the agreement, even if it isn’t money.

Department of Labor guidelines push that line of thinking even further and state an internship “is for the benefit of the intern.” Most companies work around the money issue by offering college credit, a legal means of compensation under DoL mandates.

But the lawsuit against Hearst asserts that unpaid interning “fosters class divisions between those who can afford to work for no wage and those who cannot.”

Two journalism students from Mizzou want to work summer internships. One can afford to take an unpaid position at a national magazine. The other cannot, and instead works for a small regional magazine in the Midwest.

Likely, the student at the regional gets a more rounded experience, but the resumé with the big-name magazine will pop for an HR person.

The “better” journalist is defined as the one who can afford to go in debt live for a summer unpaid. Before a student has a chance to earn a living, his or her career path is shaped by money.

Not all scenarios play out like this, and not all unpaid positions are bad. I had a great summer internship with a triathlon. It was unpaid, so I worked in addition to an hourly job on campus.

A mutual benefit existed.

Absent pecuniary compensation, that relationship test is the best strategy.

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