A new low: Newspaper makes journalism students pay to play
According to the Huffington Post, Newsquest—a UK subsidiary of the U.S. media giant Gannett—has identified an easy way to generate free content and make a few dollars doing it. It's openly extended an opportunity for young journalist (reaching out to universities in an obvious attempt to reach students) to write for their publications. Only, instead of those journalists being paid for their work, the students pay approximately $175 just to have their byline on the article. Their article. According to the Huffington Post: "Students who sign up to the programme will be expected to write one article per month over eight months, which will then be published on the site."
In an era of declining subscription numbers and dwindling profits for newspapers, a reliance on interns—typically unpaid or underpaid—for content generation has steadily grown. Most publishers have discovered that this arrangement works extraordinarily well: Interns, despite their inexperience, are eager to learn and driven to fill out their resume regardless of money earned. They're inexpensive, requiring no benefits or paid vacation time, are hard-working, and given their greenness, are receptive to guidance and willing to accept the shitty assignments more seasoned journalists would refuse. But this move marks a new low. Simply put, it has taken an already ugly paradigm of using hopeful young professionals as inexpensive labor and bumped it up a notch until they're paying to have their stories run.
Newsquest defended the move, arguing that the fee was an administrative cost, that the young students with little writing experience required substantial oversight in order to make their work ready for print. A feeble excuse. Any costs incurred by having one of these young writers on staff is overwhelming offset by the profit they generate with their work. For any young professional hoping that this is a way in which they can get some clips for what might be perceived as a modest monetary investment, I'd advise the following: Industry professionals are aware of schemes like this one, and if you choose to go this route, don't be surprised if it turns out to be a meaningless addition to your resume. Everyone has to put in their time at the bottom, but you should guard against being taken advantage of. There are limitless gainful opportunities for aspiring journalists out in the world. Don't reduce the value of your work by settling for a scam like this.
(Featured image courtesy of news-gazette.com)