Kerushun Pillay
Kerushun Pillay

Marie Claire controversy shows just how vulnerable media interns are

The recent Twitter outcry over Marie Claire’s shocking R30-a-day stipend for their interns brings to light just how hostile the world of media and journalism can be to a young beginner.

Though the fashion magazine was on the receiving end of criticism this week, it should be understood that their situation is merely par for the course in this work sector. With limited job opportunities and — due to media jobs sometimes being open to anyone with any qualification — relative openness, it gives employers opportunities to exploit those desperate enough to put up with low — and sometimes no — pay.

Marie Claire released a statement saying that they will review their policy, but were largely unapologetic about their arrangement with interns. “Our internship programme provides valuable training in magazine and digital publishing. We empower participants through mentoring from industry heavyweights” it said.

Screengrab from marieclaire.co.za

Screengrab from marieclaire.co.za

And this is the key problem: media organisations know that interns are in need of experience before they make their mark on the industry, and they duly exploit the situation.

In addition, contract lengths are short — sometimes as short as six months — and there is no real job security after the internship, be it in at the specific media house, or in the industry as a whole: finish the internship, and it’s back to square one.

The cold fact is that internships in journalism and media are so rare that youngsters have to apply for them, regardless of remuneration. And publications know this: they exploit this desperation with sinisterly low wages, often long hours, and requirements such as having your own vehicle and possessing a degree (not a diploma), which basically cut off the possibility for many graduates.

In the main, internship opportunities in media lie in only certain areas in the country, namely the cities. But short contract lengths and poor pay pretty much keep out those who are unable to re-locate.

As someone who is qualified in journalism, I struggle to think of five people from my graduating class that currently work as journalists. The sector is saturated, and internship programmes don’t provide opportunities to many.

South Africa needs desperate reform in internships and graduate programmes. Firstly, paying interns — who are expected to move to new areas and so on — nothing should be outlawed. The issue of small stipends need to be addressed, and the sector should favour those with relevant media qualification, and not leave the door open for every single graduate.

Graduates in other work sectors generally do not have to put up with low pay, a lack of benefits, competition from graduates from other fields, and little-to-no job security.

The fact that those seeking internships would apply for a post that pays them hardly anything, and that Marie Claire, and others, feel comfortable in offering low stipends speaks volumes of the nature of media internships.

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    • Herman Lategan

      Welcome to the real world. Journalism is tough, rough and heartless. There is no money in it. Subs and editors scream at you.

      Readers hate you when you don’t sound like a press release. You are only as good as you next issue or photo or article. There is no societal kiss on the forehead.

      You will be poor. I also think R30 a day is tight, agreed, but when I was in my twenties, I learned an endless amount of vital information about the media and journalism from the Raphaely family, specifically Jane.

      (Her company was then called Associated Magazines, a mini-university in its own right.) I also sucked knowledge from the many top editors, art directors, writers and subs she employed there.

      The crème de la crème, thank you. It was worth much more than any of these
      silly journalism colleges (rip-off artists) or any of those candy floss
      media/journalism degrees offered at some universities.

      A degree or diploma will assist, but it won’t help you to write well. It won’t help you to shape a narrative. Hard experience is the only way.

      That said, yes, R30 is tight-fisted, it should be more, but the knowledge and experience gained will be invaluable.

      PS: This being SA, I’m just waiting for the whole fracas to be turned into a racist issue.

    • Johan van Wyk (ouboet)

      One of the reasons I never considered journalism. It’s a thankless job and Marie Claire’s internship only serves to emphasise that.

    • Christien Scheepers

      We run a small Skills Development Center. We encourage our students to go BEG BEG BEG companies to allow them to work one year without being paid, in exchange for a letter that describes their experience at the company.There is not enough money on earth to pay for experience. MOST jobs require experience. I believe this magazine should be applauded!