Northwestern Journalism Student Internship Controversy: ‘Prestige But No Paycheck’

An internship requirement at Northwestern University’s Medill journalism school nets the uni more than $16,290 per student. It provides a free labor pool for a range of media outlets. And it offers students a relocation stipend that, at most, equates to a wage of less than three bucks per hour. Anything seem off to you?

Even more damning are some of the details of the arrangement: 1) The school makes money from two sources– the students paying tuition (for the right to work for free) AND the employers (for the right to work them hard for free). 2) This is NOT an internship option. It’s required. For an entire term, students must pay tuition to do nothing but work full time, for free. 3) To complete their internships, at least some students head briefly to different cities, obviously creating an even greater financial burden (that the school only slightly alleviates) and just-plain stress.

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As ProPublica reports (hat tip Daily Tar Heel newsroom adviser Erica Beshears Perel), “At Medill, students pay $15,040 in quarterly tuition for the privilege of working full-time jobs as unpaid interns. During their mandatory quarter in Journalism Residency, as it is known, students work full time at news organizations such as CNN Documentaries, Self and WGN Chicago. But instead of paying interns, employers pay Medill $1,250 for every student placed. In turn, students receive academic credit and a small stipend from the university for relocation expenses, ranging from $600 to $1,200. The most generous stipend amounts to just $2.72 an hour– far below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.”

ProPublica dubs the whole shebang “Internships with Prestige, But No Paycheck.”

So is it legal? Apparently, at least according to school officials in statements to ProPublica. In a larger sense though, is it right? That’s a stickier wicket, one that Medill is potentially attempting to address by “asking news organizations whether they would consider paying students minimum wage.”

My Take: To confirm, in academia, the ask-to-consider stage could simply be step one of an incredibly drawn-out process. But having the employers pay at least minimum wage or an equivalent stipend does seem like the right move. There also needs to be some mirror-gazing though by the Medill power base. Can school officials really request that employers shell out some money without also asking themselves to consider tuition reductions, higher relocation stipends or other student-friendly changes in how the residency works?

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Comments
One Response to “Northwestern Journalism Student Internship Controversy: ‘Prestige But No Paycheck’”
  1. Bryan Murley says:

    Interns should be paid. Period.