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Internships have become de rigueur for students wanting to break into the world of magazines, and what better place to do them than New York? Many students studying fashion or journalism in the city are required to do at least one internship in a related field to earn their degree, and countless more do them regardless to beef up their resumes (it's why this reporter is currently doing her second internship at the Hearst Corporation).
So you could practically hear an audible groan from these Anna Wintours-to-be last month when Condé Nast announced that it would discontinue its storied internship program at the end of this academic semester.
The decision stems from two lawsuits filed by former student interns this summer who claimed that the company failed to pay them minimum wages for their respective positions at W magazine and The New Yorker. Hearst is dealing with a similar lawsuit from a student who interned at Harper's Bazaar in 2009.
It's standard that most media internships (including those at the Curbed Network) aren't paid. Students instead receive academic credit for their time spent working, which in effect treats the office environment as a living classroom.
Many in both the publishing and academic worlds were caught off guard by Condé's decision, saying that it's a bold move to deny future students the opportunity to work at publications like Vogue, GQ, and many more, and at the same time detrimental to the company because interns fill important needs, like transcribing interviews and keeping track of samples in the fashion closet.
"Obviously, this is a huge disappointment [for our students]", said Meryl Gordon, the director of the magazine writing program for graduate students at New York University's journalism school. She estimated that approximately 50 graduate journalism students intern with Condé Nast each year. "And I also think it's a loss to Condé Nast, because they're able to get the first crack at some of our most talented students."
Allison Leopold, an assistant professor of journalism at FIT and former editor at Condé Nast publications like Vogue, expressed similar regrets. "Speaking on behalf of my students, this is a loss of a tremendous program," she said. "My students are broken-hearted, and I'm upset for them."
She added that the internship experience is unparalleled to anything that can be taught in a classroom. "They get a chance to work with real editors. They get a chance to see it's not just the cartoon caricatures that you get on TV or in film. It's not all The Devil Wears Prada. It's really neat to work side-by-side with professionals. This industry is not the joke that it's made out to be."
Though the company hasn't announced how they plan to replace the manpower of interns, Gordon knows it will certainly be difficult. "I spoke with an editor there the other day who basically thinks it will be a big loss to them because they really rely on interns for all sorts of useful tasks."
"I can only speculate if this will result in more entry-level editorial assistant spots opening up," added Leopold, "and I think that's a wonderful thing."
Several parties at schools across the city who were contacted for this article did not want to be interviewed for various reasons—most indicated that they didn't feel comfortable speaking on the record for fear of damaging relationships with Condé Nast. But Racked did speak with a New York City-based student who recently interned at one of their magazines and understood the frustrations of the plaintiffs.
"I definitely thought there was going to be more for me to do, and I definitely thought that there was going to be more instruction—the reason why they're being sued is because it wasn't a learning experience," the student said. "You have to make it a learning experience [for yourself]." However, she added, "you felt really uncomfortable as an intern asking to be taught things, because everyone seems busy and important."
"There were definitely times when I came home and was so annoyed." One of the biggest frustrations, we were told, was when an editor referred to her as an assistant. "I just felt like I wasn't doing anything and I wasn't learning anything. [I felt like] 'I'm smarter than this, I wish I was doing more.'"
But now that the internship is over, the student we spoke with acknowledged the value of working there. "If you're just coming to New York and you don't know anyone and you're trying to break into New York media, it helps to have an internship because then you get to know people," she said. "And I got to be in that building. And while I was there, I met with a person in HR and have her business card."
She adds, "It sucked that I wasn't getting paid, but hopefully they'll remember me and it'll pay off in at least someone forwarding me a job opening or recommending me."
Of course, not everyone who interned with Condé Nast did so begrudgingly. "I had a really great experience when I was interning at Lucky," said Julia Friedman, a graduate student in NYU's magazine journalism program who worked in the shopping publication's entertainment department this spring. "There were a lot of opportunities for me to write and report and to get clips, which I think is really important for anyone who is aspiring to be a journalist."
"Do I feel like I had a better experience than most people? Yeah, from what I've heard from other people I know that interned at other publications at Conde Nast," Friedman said. "I feel like it varies from internship to internship."
"All that experience outweighs not getting paid," she concluded, "and it's too bad that other people won't have that opportunity in the future."
"Every magazine is different in terms of the kind of work that they give interns, and some experiences are better than others," Gordon said. "It would have been much better to have major magazine companies take a look at what they're having their interns do and either making them more meaningful or paying for work versus just totally eliminating the programs."
"I have freshmen and sophomores who were looking forward to being upperclassmen and getting the chance to intern at Teen Vogue or Allure or any of those places," Leopold said.
"And now that's been snatched away from them."
· Condé's Move To Discontinue Internships Could Be Good News [Racked]
· Condé Nast Killing Its Internship Program in 2014 [Racked]
· Former Interns Made Less Than $1/Hour, Sue Condé Nast [Racked NY]