A real departure for me, for some reason this job advert on LinkedIn prompted me to write to the company, Just A Platform. (The full text of the advert is below). While I am not interested in the role myself, it got me thinking about work experience, unpaid work etc in my industry and how it impacts upon not just young people but those of us who are already washed-up embittered old hacks. Here are my thoughts, should you wish to read them.
Dear Sir or Madam,
While I wish you well with your start-up international community website, I wanted to write to you, as a journalist and writer of 15 years standing, to express my dismay that you are advertising for an unpaid “Editor” on a six-month “placement”. While work experience does arguably have its place in our industry, there is a huge difference between an unpaid week or two that offers training and insight into the industry (and may lead to a foot in the door) and that which you are proposing, which is a de facto full-time job but for no money.
You are looking to exploit young people by getting them to work for free. Whatever future benefits that may accrue to them as a result of working on your website will not be offset by the absence of a salary today.
While it is very likely that you will find someone to do it, that does not make it right. I am sure that other people in your organisation are receiving a salary or have expectations of sharing in profits further down the line, so why should this person not also be remunerated? There is simply no explanation other than: because we can get away with it.
Aside from the exploitation of an eager and naive person at the start of their career, proposals such as yours are bad news for other creative and media people at all stages of their careers. Your website seeks the input of journalists, photographers, film-makers etc. Are all of these people simply expected to do it for the glory of appearing on your website? Can they pay rent and buy food with this exposure?
You are contributing to a downward pressure on wages for more established creative professionals, and you are making it that tiny bit more difficult for people to make a living out of the sorts of creative “content” that you intend to showcase. This in turn will mean that journalism, writing, photography etc will become the preserve of those with enough money and time to be able to do it as a hobby – surely this is in direct opposition to the inclusive goals of your product? And as it becomes more and more difficult to make a living from these disciplines, writers (for instance) will be obliged to churn out more and more of the same sort of homogenised, click-bait drivel that populates the internet in order to earn a crust and which is, judging from your editorial tone, the direct opposite of what you are trying to do.
On your front page at the moment are passionate and dynamic stories about drone strikes in the Yemen and overseas aid. Good for you. These are complicated and multifaceted issues: meaningful comment upon them requires investigative reporting, photojournalism in dangerous or hard-to-reach places, academic research and study. All of these things take time, and cost money: if you don’t pay your writers, editors, expert contributors, photographers or whatever, they are not going to be able to do this work for very long, or very effectively.
It is possible that the young person who does come to work for you for free will gain such wonderful experience, contacts and insight that he/she makes a successful living out of journalism/writing/content/whatever. But by getting someone to work for free, you make it that little bit less likely.
I urge you to reconsider: if someone is worthy of working for you, they are worthy of being paid.
I am posting this letter on my blog, whose address is below.
Should anyone at Just A Platform care for a right to reply I will of course post it on this website
The Job advert on Linked In
Web Content Editor
Just A Platform – London, United Kingdom
Uber all-rounder talented individual wanted for 6 month placement with new International cultural website.
Internship is unpaid.
You will get the opportunity to play an important part in a start-up international cultural website.This is a varied role where you be will be involved in a number of aspects of running a website.
What we are looking for in our intern:
Reliable, committed, hard-working, flexible and creative individuals. Able to work under their own initiative but also a real team player.
Working closely with the editor and as part of a team you will:
Be responsible for your own region section
Plan and source content for website
Coordinate and develop editorial content strategy
Research and write regular features
Although you will be given a fair deal of responsibility and be required to work well on your own you will also be given full support throughout to ensure you get the most out of your intership period.
Desired Skills & Experience
Online Research, Writing & Editing
Creative, flexible, proactive
Reliable, hard-working, committed & responsible
Team player but able to work under own initiative with minimal supervision
Interest in International culture and news
Build networks and relationships with potential clients & partners
Work closely with section editors
Ability to prioritise and juggle varied workload
Just a Platform.com was launched in 2013 to provide a platform for the engaging and connecting of individuals with a wider international community through news and cultural information, events, projects and work opportunties.