Is CBS News' Unpaid Internship Fair?
Over the summer, CBS News hosted 86 interns – 76 in New York, and 10 in Washington DC. About 600 college students applied this year for the program, according to Internship Program Coordinator Katie Curcio, and those selected worked 40-hour weeks at places like "The Early Show," "Evening News" and "60 Minutes."
The only compensation CBS provided to the interns was a $6 daily credit for lunch in the cafeteria. Even if they found temporary accommodation in a dorm or a cheap room in an outer borough, those interns who could not commute from home had to pay at least $700 per month – if they were lucky – to live in New York. (Rent in DC is not much cheaper.) Add in travel costs, food, and incidentals and an average intern would likely have to spend a few thousand dollars to participate in the program.
It can be a good investment. Curcio says that in the past 46 months, CBS News has hired 49 former interns. (There are part-time interns during the school year, though in small numbers; at the moment, CBS News hosts 44.) Colleen Ferreira, a junior at St. Mary's College in Indiana, interned at "The Early Show" this summer. He parents gave her the money to make it work; had they not, she says she would have dug into her savings. "I feel bad for people who can't afford to do it, but it's not fair to pay me for this amazing experience I had," says Ferreira, who ran into Hannah Storm at a Notre Dame football game earlier this year and shared a hug with the "Early Show" anchor. Ferreira hopes to use her connections to score a full-time job at CBS News after she graduates.
Arden Farhi, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, interned at CBS News for the second time this summer, though he almost had to forgo the opportunity. "I wanted to come back, but I was hesitant as far as being able to afford it," he says. He pulled it off by scrimping and saving – not eating out, little in the way of nightlife. "Do I like working for free? Of course not," says Farhi, who hopes to join CBS News as a paid employee. "But you pay to get ahead in the field. And it's worth it."
But is it fair? Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not be able to spend their summer working for free, and thus will not have the resume-boosting internships necessary to score their first job in the news business. In 2004, the New York Times ran a story headlined "Crucial Unpaid Internships Increasingly Separate the Haves From the Have-Nots." The story quotes ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts, who claims that "[b]y setting up unpaid internship programs, it seems to me that without completely recognizing it, it sets up a system where you are making it ever more difficult for people who don't have economic advantages to catch up." ABC News, like CBS and NBC News, does not pay its interns.
There are some ways around the financial hurdles. Interns can try to get part time, paying jobs on top of their full-time internships. Or they can apply for a grant from their schools or from a journalism program such as the National Association of Black Journalists, which every summer pays the expenses of one or two of CBS News' unpaid interns. (The Native American Journalists Association also sponsored two interns this summer.) One student this past summer made ends meet by appealing to her friends and family for donations.
But such opportunities are few and far between – at St. Mary's College, for example, students cannot get grants if they are planning to be outside of Indiana. (Notes Ferreira: "Indiana is a great state for many things, but for broadcast journalism – well, it's not.") And many students are unaware of the opportunities that are available to them. The odds of landing an internship are thus stacked in favor of the relatively wealthy and well connected – and since the internship paves the way to full employment, that fact has implications for the news division as a whole.
This is a class issue, but in a country in which there is a correlation between skin color and socioeconomic status, it is a racial one as well. Curcio says she makes an effort to recruit a diverse crop of interns. "I recruit around the country, and I have a list of the top 50 colleges for African-Americans, for Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans. I try to go to as many of these colleges as I can," she says. The top schools for Latinos, she notes wryly, are Harvard, Princeton, Amherst and Yale, some of the most expensive schools in the country, which means that the minority interns she does recruit often come from relatively affluent backgrounds. (This summer, she says, 30 percent of interns were minorities.)
Since she became internship coordinator a few years ago, Curcio, a former intern herself, says there has been no discussion of providing compensation for interns. "I would love to pay the interns, but for budget reasons that would severely cut down on the number of interns we could have," she says. And she says there are some positives to the internship being unpaid. "Taking 10 weeks of your summer to not get paid," she says, "they seem like they want it more."