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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