Media Giants Buckle And Start Paying Their Interns

sign at viacom headquarters next to man carrying a coffee cupWhen a former unpaid intern for Fox Searchlight Pictures won his lawsuit last week, the news media pondered from all corners: Is the unpaid internship dead? When it comes to major media companies at least, the answer appears to be yes.

In the last 18 months, since the first of unpaid intern lawsuits sent the press into paroxysms, several media heavyweights have begun paying their interns. A few calls this week found these companies are paying interns for the first time:
  • Viacom Inc., the parent company of MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central, will be paying its interns for the first time this summer.
  • Meredith Corporation, which publishes a host of magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, and Ladies' Home Journal, started paying its interns in the past year.
  • NBC Universal, parent company of NBC, CNBC and MSNBC, introduced a uniform policy of paying its interns in just the past six months.

Is this a trend? The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University surveyed 85 Phoenix-area media and PR firms and found this summer and fall:
  • A full 50 percent of broadcast internships are paid, up from 36 percent the year before.
  • Sixty-one percent of publication internships were paid, up from 41 percent the year before.

    More:Unpaid Internships: What You Should Know About Working For Free

    "It could be the improvement in the economy," says Michael Wong, ASU's director of career services, who conducted the survey. "Or it could be those lawsuits that are out there. Some of the corporate attorneys are saying, 'We've got to do this.' "

    There are some hold-outs, though. They include:

    HearstCorporation, the publisher Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Elle and many others. As the first media company to be sued by an unpaid intern, it could be sticking to its unpaid internships on the advice of attorneys.

    Conde Nast: The publisher of glossy magazines, including GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair,issued new guidelines for its internship program last March, but the stipend of "around $550 for the semester" isn't much more than the $12 a day that its interns previously took home (or rather, spent on a sandwich and a subway fare).

    More:Why You Should Grab That Unpaid Internship [Infographic]

    Fewer interns? Defenders of unpaid internships say that without them, companies will end up hiring fewer interns, depriving countless ambitious youngsters of the learning experience, networking opportunity and resume stamp that an internship provides. Wong admitted that when a local affiliate station in Phoenix recently started paying interns, they went from offering 12 spots to four.

    "We're happy for the four students for those opportunities, and we're happy they got paid," he said. "But those eight opportunities for students disappeared."

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