Intern Affairs : Should we work for free?


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 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 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, 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.


2 responses to “Intern Affairs : Should we work for free?

  1. I think the difference between a “good” and a “bad” internship depends on the skills that are required for the internship. What were the skills you needed to get the internship at the newspaper were they more or less specific compared to the skills that you required to get the position at If a company wants more specific skills than they have to pay for it, i know everyone is also looking to get something for free, but if you can’t get it for free, you usually decide to pay for it or not get it at all. i think collectively people should stop applying for these high skilled unpaid internships, and play chicken with these employers and lets see who blinks first?

    The internship culture is spreading. I’m currently looking for work in the summer when I am in Dublin. I came across an internship(not jobridge) at a gym franchise where the candidate must be a fully qualified personal trainer and perform the normal duties of a personal trainer for 16 hrs a week for FREE! This is disgusting. In Ireland and the UK, the cost of becoming a qualified personal trainer is between €1500- €2000 depending on the company and the location. And now these gym wants you to work for free, it devalues the gym, the personal trainer and the fitness industry in Ireland.

    Furthermore looking at the personal trainers that are connected to the company( all the personal trainers are self employed) The prices they are offering are very low. Some of the trainers are offering a 30min session for between €15-€20 and 60min sessions at €30-€35.
    Physically as a personal trainer you can work maximum 30 hrs per week, over 30 hrs per week and you start getting lazy. So lets do some maths!!!
    If you work 30hrs for €30, you earn €900 per week, Say you work 48 weeks in the year, you would earn after tax €30,433.

    But the thing about personal training, is that things are changeable, some weeks you can have no clients or you can have be available to work from 8am-8pm and maybe earn €60.

    Ultimately most industries are becoming a race to the bottom for skilled workers

  2. I agree fundamentally with your article; an internship should be a developmental opportunity to hone your skills and increase your chances of future employment However the crux of the problem is that people such as yourself who originally live in Dublin are honestly the lucky ones in this job market. I come from Mayo, and recently had to move home from Dublin because I was unable to find a job after finishing college. I am now unemployed, there are very few opportunities in my local town for jobs, internships or otherwise. It would be madness for me to move to a city to conduct an unpaid internship.
    It is also important to acknowledge how internships have been used for many years now by our government through jobbridge etc., and this has resulted in it becoming almost impossible for Irish graduates like me to be paid for an entry level position.

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