San Francisco, California
London, United Kingdom
Nicole Cohen & Greig de Peuter: Interns Talk Back: Disrupting Narratives about Unpaid Work in the Media
Is “internship” a dirty word? This question, headlining a recent newspaper article, signals a shift in popular perception of internships. Based on a review of media coverage of unpaid internships between 2008 and 2015 and interviews with intern rights activists, we critically assess media narratives about unpaid internships. Early coverage perpetuated the myth that young people should work for free, relying on clichés that normalize the wageless positions flourishing in “glamour industries” such as media, fashion, and music. Yet in the wake of financial crisis, government probes, and, most significantly, intern-led activism, critique of internships surfaced on the same news pages. We provide a frame analysis of intern coverage, theorize the catalysts of media interest in interns’ plights, assess journalists’ apparent sympathy with interns, and identify persistent contradictions and gaps in the coverage. The activism of interns themselves and their allies is, we argue, a key force in shifting positions on unpaid internships: beneath the struggle over meaning unfolding in coverage of unpaid internships is collective organization and autonomous communication.
[Photo: Joel Gillman CC-BY-SA 2.0]
Nicole Cohen is an assistant professor at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is the author of Writers’ Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016). She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Canadian Intern Association.
Greig de Peuter is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. He collaborates on Cultural Workers Organize, a research project exploring collective responses to precarious work in the arts, the media, and cultural industries. He is on the Advisory Board of the Canadian Intern Association.
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CAMRI Media Research
Communications and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster