If you’re a young Irish person attempting to break into the world of journalism you’re probably well used to seeing unpaid internships advertised online.
Ranging in length from anything between 3 and 6 months, these positions pop up from time to time and, with so little work up for grabs in the industry, aspiring writers tend to snap them up.
Back in 2012 I did just that. I quit a retail job to commit full time to an internship with entertainment.ie three days per week. It was a gamble but it most certainly paid off and set the ball rolling for the career which I am so proud of today.
I started in early November and by December I could work the Content Management System and was flying off to London to sit down with David Oyelowo, Christopher McQuarrie and Lee Child to do my first ever on-camera interviews.
As if that wasn’t enough someone was going on maternity leave so I got a job and the opportunity to take over the whole TV Section just three months after I signed up for the unpaid position. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the course of my time at entertainment.ie I went on to learn everything I know about interviews, press junkets, video editing, SEO, html and FTP systems. I became as much of a techie as a writer, all thanks to a fantastic team of developers and a Senior Content Manager with the patience of a saint.
Those first three months spent as a Movies Intern weren’t the first I’d worked for free either. Back in January of 2012 a whole host of DCU students flocked to The Helix to work as unpaid runners on Take Me Out Seasons 2 and 3.
We spent about a week learning everything there was to know about as-live TV, gaining valuable production skills while sitting in on more Shifters dates than anyone ever needed to.
A week later I joined the ranks of The Sunday Times Ireland for seven days. While there I was fortunate enough to get to work on both the newspaper and the Sunday supplement, be included in the weekly news meetings and get an insight into how the picture desk worked.
And sure didn’t they even make sure I had some work I’d get paid for too?
And finally, during the summer of 2012, my DCU INTRA placement took me to TV3’s Ireland AM for 12 weeks. It was in the TV3 newsroom with Victoria O’Brien and her team that I got an invaluable education in television that I’ve never forgotten.
Whilst at Ireland AM I learned almost everything there was to know about producing breakfast TV, from ordering graphics and editing footage to pulling off live Q&As, booking guests and taking calls about the presenters’ wardrobes from dedicated viewers.
The team allowed me to flex my telly muscles and even gave me the opportunity to take a mic in my hands and get into the media scrum with the Notre Dame and Navy American football players ahead of the Emerald Isle Classic.
Without those skills I would never have ended up back in those studios as a guest on on Xposé just two and a half years later.
That’s why I usually find it hard to wander into the “should we work for free?” debate. Well, that and the fact that I still live at home in Dublin. and thus have the luxury of not having to pay for accommodation. This tends to negate my opinion in the eyes of some.
Honestly though, I do see merit in working free to a point, and that’s only when the internship offers us something.
Only when we actually stand to gain something that will further our career. Otherwise it’s nothing short of exploitation.
A brilliantly talented friend of mine, Úna Kavanagh, wrote an excellent piece on this very topic just yesterday. She was inspired by an ad on the very popular SoSueMe.ie, calling for an intern with a very specific set of skills. It’s not the first site to do so, nor will it be the last.
They were hunting for a web savvy writer with Photoshop and video editing experience. Scrolling down through the job description I couldn’t help but notice that they were looking for someone who was just about as qualified as I am after a series of unpaid and paid positions. I, like Úna, instantly balked.
Now let me get one thing straight before I continue: I do not consider myself to be above any job. I just think that when someone has bothered to go and hone their craft in various positions or worked hard to take extra courses and gain certain skills, those skills should count for something.
“We don’t do internships well in Ireland”, a very wise lady said to me recently and if there’s one thing that proves her theory it’s that (now removed) ad.
Just across the pond in the UK you’ll regularly find ads for media internships that actually PAY. Yes, PAY. What’s the big difference on this side of the Irish Sea?
Internships should serve to equip us with skills, not exploit the talents we already have.