Lately, unpaid interns have been suing their employers for not paying them, which has gotten people asking, again, whether not paying people for work is ever kosher. Alec Dudson, a 29-year-old former intern from the UK, is jumping into that debate with...
Image courtesy Alec Dudson
Unpaid internships run the gamut from rewarding to thankless. I once interned at a fashion magazine where I was instructed not to look the editor in chief in the eye (so much for cultivating interpersonal skills). But I got college credit and invaluable experience—I saw how a magazine operated and left with a few bylines at the end of the semester. Others haven’t been as happy with their experiences: a group of unpaid interns who worked on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan sued the production company for essentially using them as indentured servants and violating state and federal labor laws. A judge ruled in their favor, and now several sets of interns—normally the silent, oft-abused grunts of “glamor” industries like journalism and TV—are suing their employers, including NBCUniversal and Condé Nast. Some are saying that this wave of litigation will convince companies to get rid of unpaid interns altogether in order to avoid lawsuits.
Alec Dudson, a 29-year-old from Manchester, UK, intends to address the debate surrounding unpaid labor with a new magazine, fittingly titled Intern. (No relation, as far as I know, to The Intern Magazine, a lifestyle website for “the Urban Gentleman.”) Alec has launched a Kickstarter campaign for the print publication, which he plans to put out twice a year. Intern will feature reflections on internship experiences along with original photography, design, and writing from people who are trying to break into creative industries. So far, he’s raised £2,900 of his £5,500 goal, which he hopes to meet by the August 7 deadline.
Naturally, Alec is a former intern. After earning a masters degree in sociology from the University of Manchester, he decided to enter the magazine industry, like so many others. Hoping to get his foot in the door, he spent a year working as an unpaid intern at two magazines while bartending part time—and ended up no closer to a paid position than he was when he graduated.
As a current unpaid VICE intern who’s crashing on a couch in New York City for the summer, I’m obviously interested in this stuff, so I called Alec up for a chat.
VICE: Internships and interns have obviously in the news, with all those lawsuits. When and why did you decide to start this magazine?
Alec Dudson: It’s very much my experiences that led me into the whole concept. I spent 2012 interning with magazines—first with Domus, an architecture and design magazine based in Milan. I did a couple months there, and then I was with Boat magazine, which is based in London. It was toward the end of my time with Boat that the reality of my situation really started to hit home. And that made me consider the larger game I played. I had a really great time with the internships that I had, but the fact remained that a year and a lot of unpaid work later, I was nowhere near my ideal magazine job.
I perceived, to a degree at least, it was a matter of cost: you got your industry experience if you worked hard enough; if you were good enough at what you did, that there was this kind of pot at the end of the rainbow. And when I started to get the impression that that maybe wasn’t the case, it just seemed like there was space for something—I didn’t initially know what, exactly—that could have acted as a kind of resource [for me], if it had been there a year before, when I was just starting to plan my attack on getting into the magazine industry.
So what’s the idea behind the magazine?
It has sort of a two-pronged purpose. First of all, it’ll act as a showcase for some really precocious talent. I want to provide a means of getting their work out there and putting that in the limelight.
The second side to it is to try and initiate a frank and, for me, important debate about the current state of intern culture. It’s intrinsically important that interns have a voice and they’re allowed to express their opinions and their experiences. One thing I’m mindful of avoiding is a publication that is just a set of tales of interns who feel like they’ve been mistreated. That alone is not a debate, it’s just a soapbox. So there’ll be pieces from people—big names in the industry—who are looking back on their time as interns.
I’ve got a couple of articles in the pipeline where we’ve got the person in the senior position giving the internship and the intern both looking back on that shared experience. For it to be a meaningful and worthwhile debate, each side has to have their opportunity to state their case, if you will. Then, not only will it be a resource for people getting into the industry, but also a means for helping those in industry reflect on the situation they’re proliferating. One of the first arguments that arises whenever anyone brings up unpaid internships is that you’re creating a scenario where not everyone can afford to work for free—certainly when the really desirable positions are in cities like New York or London that aren’t cheap cities to live in.
No, not at all.
Creativity is not a birthright—[it shouldn’t be the case that] just because your family is well-off, you’re allowed to be creative. If you are creative and you’ve got a real talent for it, class structures shouldn’t be holding you back. I don’t understand how those situations are doing anyone any good, apart from the cheap labor aspect, which is morally wrong.
While I have to remain impartial, to a degree, due to the way that the magazine’s set up, it’s probably clear that I’m not wild about the idea of people not getting paid for internships. I can’t plant my flag too firmly on any one side, because it’s not a fair debate if everything is tinged with my personal opinion.
Starting a print magazine is pretty risky these days, not to mention way more expensive than just setting up a blog. Are you worried about the magazine’s prospects?
The biggest mistake you can make with a new independent magazine is aiming too high. I mean, Boat is on their fifth issue now, I think, and only now are they getting to the point where they can know how many copies they can print and sell.
As much as possible, I’ve done all the work. The other week, I had to coerce a friend into helping me make a wooden display stand, rather than going somewhere where it would cost me $100 to get one made. By running a relatively tight ship and not trying to take on extra staff when they’re not really required, I’m in a situation where, as long as I don’t try to grow too aggressively, I think it’ll work out. At least the people who have contributed have already been paid, and the person picking up the slack is me. So in that respect, I think it’s a moral way of doing it.
Lesley Thulin is a current VICE magazine intern. She hasn’t sued us. Yet. Follow her on Twitter: @LesleyThulin
To donate to Intern magazine’s Kickstarter, go here.
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