Exploiters and Hypocrites Exposed: 'Progressive' Media Outlets Paying Interns Little or Nothing for Months of Work

Charles Davis at Vice.com has written an eye-opening expose of “Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media” – unpaid or poorly paid interns at liberal magazines, websites, and radio networks that claim to speak out for the poorly paid working stiffs.

Davis notes Harper’s magazine wants interns to “work on a full-time, unpaid basis for three to five months” and The Washington Monthly is offering internships that are “unpaid and can be either part-time or full-time.” But Salon.com’s hypocrisy is the most perfect:

“Some professional experience is required,” says a listing for an editorial internship at Salon. If you get that job, you’ll be helping “research, report, write and produce our news and culture coverage,” which sounds a lot like a job. The position, based in New York City, is unpaid.

Though it does not pay its professionally experienced interns a dime, Salon (which has published my work in the past) has had the chutzpah to run a number of stories on the plight of unpaid workers, such as, “'Intern Nation': Are We Exploiting a Generation of Workers?” and “Unpaid and Sexually Harassed: The Latest Intern Injustice.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The New Republic is owned now “by a co-founder of Facebook worth more than $600 million, Chris Hughes,” who was also a tech adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign. But they don’t pay interns. Davis offers other nifty profiles in hypocrisy:

– Robert Reich served as labor secretary under Bill Clinton and is outspoken in his support for a living wage. But when I asked him about the trend of entry-level jobs being relabeled “internships” and being stripped of the pay, benefits, and legal rights they once offered recent college grads (by some estimates, half of the estimated 1.5 million interns in America are unpaid), he professed ignorance.

“This is not a topic I've given much thought,” said Reich....

In a recent listing, The American Prospect, a magazine founded by Reich and other veterans of the Clinton administration, announced it was looking for editorial interns to assist “with fact-checking and research.” The interns will be “encouraged to contribute editorially and participate in meetings in addition to pursuing their own projects.”

Sounds good, but, “This is a full-time internship and comes with a $100 weekly stipend,” according to the listing. That comes to about $2.50 an hour, or “not nothing” if you are a glass-half-full type. However, there is a catch: “Interns who receive full course credit are ineligible for the weekly stipend.”

– The fellowship offered by Mother Jones isn't an entry-level menial gig—“No coffee or laundry errands here!” says the magazine—but the compensation could fool you: “Fellows receive a $1,000 monthly stipend.” Assuming a 40-hour workweek (many journalists work much longer hours than that), that means a fellow at Mother Jones earns less than $6 an hour in a state, California, that just decided to raise the minimum wage to $10...


Vice spurred Mother Jones to announce they would pay interns something comparable to the minimum wage – perhaps because Vice noted “the names at the top of the masthead are very comfortable. Editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery each make more than $167,000 a year, while chief operating officer Madeleine Buckingham makes $159,000.”

– Pacifica Radio is another target.

Democracy Now!, the venerable progressive broadcast hosted by journalist Amy Goodman, requires interns at its new, LEED Platinum-certified office in Manhattan to work for free for two months, for a minimum of 20 hours a week, after which "a $15 expense allowance is provided on days you work five or more hours."

"They really held that $15 over us," said one former intern, who added that "they told us pretty explicitly on our first day that the internship wouldn't lead to a job." According to the source, who requested anonymity, interns were required to fill out daily accounts of the "results" they achieved each day. ("Wrote headline tweets for the day, monitored stream from last night, listened to interviews for quotes"; "Got a retweet from Lupe Fiasco (rapper).")

In 2011, Democracy Now! asked its $15-a-day employees to work the program's 15th anniversary gala, a major fundraiser. Interns were asked to "greet and thank guests, check their coats, make sure the event goes smoothly, and help clean up," according to an email obtained by VICE. "We will provide you with a delicious pizza dinner, but ask that you refrain from eating the catered dinner at the event."

Back then, interns did not have to wait two months to get their $15 stipend, which probably made the Domino's go down easier. But while entry-level staffers at Democracy Now! are paid less than ever, not all have shared in the sacrifice: Goodman made more than $148,000 in 2011, twice what she took home in 2007-and that doesn't include income from book sales or speaking engagements.

Requests for comment were not acknowledged by Democracy Now!

A year after I first came to Washington, in the fall of 1987, I worked as an intern at the National Journalism Center for 12 weeks for a small stipend, so I've been on that side, and it surely helped my career. MRC has long paid its interns, and is presently paying $11 an hour. For so-called progressive organizations that demand higher minimum wages across society, it's hard to fathom the depth of their hypocrisy on unpaid or barely-paid interns -- especially when they have top staff making six-figure salaries.

You can't claim "measly little nonprofit" status with that kind of wage at the top. It seems quite obvious it's time for some Occupying interns to get out their tents and do nothing until they make honest liberals of their employers and at least a minimum wage is paid.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis