Condé Nast Pulls Plug on Internship Program

The landscape for journalism interns is beginning to drastically change as news came out earlier this week that magazine powerhouse Condé Nast will be ending their internship program in 2014.

The news was first announced in Women’s Wear Daily four months after two former interns sued Condé Nast, claiming that they were paid below minimum wage while working summer internships at W Magazine and The New Yorker.  The case, which is still pending, is one of a handful of similar lawsuits that have been filed by low-paid and unpaid interns in the media field, according to The New York Times.

As a former Condé Nast intern, I’m surprised by the news, but not utterly floored.  When I started as the web intern for Condé Nast Traveler last year, I was the last Master’s level intern in their program.  They had made the decision just over a year ago to no longer accept interns who were pursuing higher education, this being at the time when Hearst Magazines battled a former intern for Harper’s Bazaar in court who claimed that she had worked an unpaid internship that was essentially a full time job.

In the lawsuit she claimed that, “unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work.”

With my experience as the last graduate level intern at Condé Nast, it seemed to me that some move was eminent, but when I heard that they had decided to pull the plug on the program all together, I was surprised at the magnitude of their decision.  I thought that they would continue to take in undergraduate interns, but figured that they would stick with their decision to pass on master’s students.

In the past, the publications at Condé Nast would ‘employ’ dozens of interns amongst their numerous publications, which include The New Yorker, GQ, Bon Appétit, Vogue and Vanity Fair, among others.  

The unpaid internship has been a contentious issue in the media industry for years as entry-level positions seem to dwindle away and publications take on unpaid interns to fill the roles.  It equates to a whole working class that finds it difficult to advance their careers with a limited amount of entry-level jobs, and with no income to support them while they work for free.

Condé Nast’s decision to completely dismantle their internship program is fully within their rights, however, wouldn’t it be more productive for both the publication and these interns to get paid for their work?  The company, which saw a 14 percent increase in revenue last year to nearly $27.7 million due to ad sales, has the means to pay their interns at least minimum wage.

While it seems that the case is now closed for Condé Nast and their internship program, we wait to see whether other media outlets will follow suit.  This could be the start of a disastrous trend for publications who weigh the benefits of intern work against the potential for labor lawsuits.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and FoxNews.com.
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