NBC News is planning to pay its interns starting in the spring of 2013, according to a well-placed source at the network, addressing a long-held contention that requiring interns to work only for the experience or for college credit amounts to favoring students with well-to-do parents.
The number of internships and the salary level have yet to be determined, the source said.
The arguments for and against unpaid internships have been made for years.
In 2006, NBC News was embarrassed when Brian Williams, “Nightly News” anchor and managing editor, posted a photo of the unpaid “Nightly News” interns that showed that none were of color. Williams wrote afterward on his blog, “In previous years, our interns have better reflected American society” and added that “. . . I have spoken to Steve Capus, the President of NBC News, and going forward, racial diversity will now also be a factor in our unpaid summer internship program, because our newsrooms have to better reflect our society.”
“The economics of unpaid internships are obvious,” Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote in April. “Employers are desperate for cheap work, and ‘free’ is pretty cheap. Workers are desperate for, well, anything, and students and recent grads are willing to negotiate their wages down to zero. But the ethics aren’t so clear-cut. If unpaid internships are the key to better jobs and bigger salaries, should we be concerned about the millions of lower-class students who can’t afford to work for free?”
In 2005, Reginald Stuart, then a recruiter for the now-defunct Knight Ridder newspaper chain, and now corporate recruiter for the McClatchy Co., accepted the Ida B. Wells award for promoting diversity from the National Association of Black Journalists with a plea for audience members to advocate for paid internships.
“Are you insisting at every turn that interns be paid for the work they do?” Stuart asked. “At the Howard University Jobs Fair yesterday, I was reminded how ingrained this no-pay notion is, especially in the heads of young recruiters who need to be on the front lines fighting it. I asked a young recruiter if his company was paying its interns. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘They don’t do that.’ If he’s working for them, shouldn’t he be saying ‘we?’
“In one breath, I was ashamed of him and for him. He reminded me of the character in the movie ‘Crash’ who seemed powerless to determine anything in his company, even how a line of script in a sitcom should be read. Trust me. Paying interns is an easy one.”