ABC News will start paying their interns in January, 2008. The move is unusual, as most (read: basically all) of the networks ensure that their interns slave away for nothing more than school credit. As a result, many interns actually end up spending money to work at their temporary places of employment.
As a former network news intern myself (though not at ABC), I felt their pain. Commuting costs were not covered, nor was lunch (save for an occasional cake or pizza-yes, news nets celebrate birthdays too), suffice it to say, I lost some cash in the process.
The normal line is “you make up for it with experience!” which is partially true, you do learn a lot from interning, whether at a national news outlet or a local business, but for a college student, experience doesn’t get you Ramen, textbooks or Halo 3 (or, ahem, beer).
ABC’s move is designed to remedy this problem, which can discourage many potential applicants who may not be able to afford the costs associated with an internship.
"ABC’s internship program is one of the primary ways we identify and nurture young journalists. This change will enhance our ability to reach an even more diverse group of students and attract the best and brightest," Said David Westin, president of ABC News, announcing the decision.
As Westin noted when making the announcement, many of their employees began as interns, including the executive producer of Weekend News Content Vinnie Malhotra, who interned at ABC NewsOne in 1996.
"The experience and the exposure you get as an intern at the network level is unparalleled. I worked hard, soaked in everything I could, and paid my dues to earn a full-time position. It definitely gave me a head start," said Malhotra.
While Malhotra is mostly right, paying dues should be getting Charlie Gibson (or the desk assistants) coffee, not spending half your budget to keep working there.
By paying their interns, even if it is not much above minimum wage, the college students who spend their time interning at ABC will not have to deal with many of the monetary “issues” current and former interns faced. Hopefully the move will also attract a more diverse applicant group, including students who may not have otherwise applied because of the financial pressures of the position.
Other networks take note! As an open letter from a former intern: do the right thing, they get you coffee and do the things you don’t want to do, and many spend their own money to do it. Can’t you throw a few dollars their way?