June 5, 2013

ProPublica launches Kickstarter campaign to hire intern to report on internships; or what economy?


Guess which one of these people is an intern?

The independent news organization ProPublica is working on a new project about internships, and for that they need what apparently everyone needs to get things done these days: an intern.

ProPublica has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $22,000 to pay for the salary of one intern for the fall 2013 semester. The lucky intern in question will be contributing to their ongoing investigation into internships, paid and unpaid, by traveling to college campuses, interviewing past and present interns, and helping to build an interactive news app based on the data collected from reporting and through an online questionnaire.

ProPublicans Blair Hickman and Jeremy Merrill, who appear in the Kickstarter video, claim that no one has yet done an in-depth study of the world of internships, somewhat oddly ignoring the sure-to-be-definitive movie on the topic, The Internship, starring Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson. (And, less flippantly, Ross Perlin’s book Intern Nation.) But it’s definitively ripe for investigation: in a New York Times op-ed in 2011, Perlin cited a study by the College Employment Research Institute which found that three-quarters of American college students will have at least one internship before graduating.

The matter has begun to move into the courts in recent years, as the number of internships has grown and as they have increasingly become a way to earn academic credit: 2012 saw high-profile lawsuits by interns against the Hearst Corporation, Charlie Rose, and Fox Searchlight. And though an Internships Bill, which would have banned companies from advertising unpaid internships and regulated working conditions, came up for discussion in Parliament in March, but didn’t pass, very soon afterwards the jobs website Monster.co.uk— one of the largest UK jobs sites— announced that it would no longer accept postings for unpaid internships. Another UK site, Totaljobs.com, followed suit just last week.

In short, there’s no better time, Prospective Interns of America, to ditch, at one blow, your dreams about jobs with long-term prospects, dependable funding for investigative journalism, and an academic community that doesn’t charge its students to participate in unrewarding work, and to up sticks and hit the road with ProPublica for what should prove to be a highly enlightening—and hopefully, galvanizing—investigation.



Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.