Harper’s Magazine, which published its first issue in 1850 and is the “oldest general-interest monthly in America,” tweeted about a job opportunity on Friday afternoon.
Harper’s Magazine is accepting applications from college students and graduates for its editorial internship program. Interns work on a full-time, unpaid basis for three to five months and receive practical experience in critical reading and analysis, research, fact checking, and the general workings of a national magazine. Each intern works closely with an editor on one section of the magazine, takes part in the creation of the Harper’s Index, and is encouraged to read widely, generate ideas and approach problems creatively.
This is not an internship. This is an unpaid job. Not only that, but considering that most internships are done for school credit, chances are that the student who’s giving Harper’s three to five months of unpaid labor will be paying a university for the privilege of fact-checking writers like Katie Roiphe. Not only that, but Harper’s is based in Manhattan; New York City is the second-most expensive city in the country to live in. The only kind of intern who can afford to not be paid for at least three months and pay their rent in a city as expensive as New York is someone who probably already lives in or near New York, and is likely very wealthy.
In every industry, unpaid internships block talented working class students—particularly students of color—from getting work experience that’s unfortunately necessary in our job market. Journalism is no different; as Journos of Color, a now-defunct Tumblr, wrote in 2013 in response to a listing for an unpaid internship at Foreign Policy:
If you’re wondering why it’s hard to find people from low-income backgrounds in elite journalism—which, disproportionately, means people of color—look no further than this. The only people who can afford to work full-time for free come from wealth, and generally, if you’re wealthy in America, you’re white.
It’s a barrier to entry that keeps the field closed to everyone but our affluent, (almost certainly) Ivy-educated elites. That’s a problem.
By not paying its interns, Harper’s is disqualifying most students from an opportunity that could help them get a job in media, and itself from an opportunity to help make the media not so white, male, and rich. Then again, maybe that’s the point.
[h/t: Jessica Huseman]