Ryan Glasspiegel at Romenesko drew out more details from writer Charles Davis about his article for Vice.com on the trend of unpaid internships and left-wing media outlets that profess to abhor exploitative employers. It was called "The Exploited Labor of the Liberal Media." (Our summary is here.)
When Davis peeked at the comments his article drew, "Only a few people took the bosses’ sides." A few tried to suggest that a boss at Mother Jones or Pacifica Radio making upwards of $150,000 isn't "rich," and Davis said tell that to an unpaid intern:
Indeed, the only negative responses I got in my inbox were from a couple people (none of them interns), who wrote me to suggest that editors who are making anywhere from $70,000 to $150,000 are not “getting rich,” which may be true but is also a non-sequitur – and go tell that to an unpaid intern.
I understand why some of these people are defensive – the left-wing media world is small — and some would say incestuous — but when you have the means to pay top staff well above a living wage, it’s a bit rich to ask only the millenials to sacrifice in the name of the cause. It’s wrong, actually.
I don’t think progressive outlets should be in the business of replicating the economic inequality they criticize elsewhere. And I don’t think editors who pay themselves well over a living wage should be immune from criticism when they pay others nothing. For some, that’s been a point of contention.
Glasspiegel asked if he wrote the piece to force liberal outlets to live up to liberal ideals, even if it pinches their wallets:
A senior editor at The American Prospect responded that while he wanted to defend his magazine’s use of unpaid and barely paid labor, he couldn’t help but admit that his magazine was wrong and needed to “live up to values we profess.” I am not aware of there having been a change in policy yet, but such acknowledgements can’t help but set the wheels in motion – and I do know that staff at some of the other places I named in the piece are lobbying for such a change.
That’s ultimately why I wrote it: There’s a lot of exploitation in our society. While the vast majority of that exploitation is carried out by people who would not identify as part of the left — much less center-left media — guilty white liberals are susceptible to being guilted into changing their behavior when allies point out that it falls short of their professed values.
Davis was honest enough to say Vice paid him $300 for the article, which wasn't the same kind of money he'd get if he was a salaried writer for Vice. He also said " VICE did not commission this piece nor did I set out with the intention of writing it for them. The problem I encountered is that no outlet one would consider part of the traditional “left” media would touch it, in part because they either exploit 20-something labor themselves or they wished to stay on friendly terms with those who do. VICE was willing to let me call out hypocrisy when no one else would."