The NY Times ran an article yesterday about the growth of unpaid internships, Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say:

With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor….

[Nancy J.] Leppink said many employers failed to pay even though their internships did not comply with the six federal legal criteria that must be satisfied for internships to be unpaid. Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.

Which companies have unpaid internships? Well, the NY Times, for one (italics mine):

Academic-Year Internships

The New York Times invites ambitious, motivated graduate students in journalism to apply for semester-long internships on one of our news desks. Working alongside our reporters and editors, students can expect to observe news events, evaluate news releases and competitors’ stories for possible coverage, and have their work critiqued by New York Times staffers.

To be eligible, students must provide letters from their colleges or universities stating that they are receiving academic credit for the internship and providing the contact information for the professor or academic professional responsible for monitoring internships.

Students should expect to write several articles during their semester at The Times and will receive pay at minimum freelance rates for these news stories, as well as for any legwork or stringing. The internship itself is unpaid.

Preferred candidates will have a demonstrated interest in journalism, including previous internships on daily newspapers. They need not be majoring in journalism or communications, provided they have this experience and the published clips. The clips should show range — breaking news, features and news analysis.

To apply students must fill out the application and submit it with a resume, two letters of recommendation from their professors, six newspaper or online clips, or both, and a letter outlining what they hope to learn from the internship.

Location: The New York Times headquarters building, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10018, or one of the Metropolitan desk offices around the city.

Hours: Approximately 6 to 8 hours a week; days flexible.

Salary: Unpaid; must receive academic credit. There are, however, opportunities for paid freelance assignments.

It is hard to say, from this description, that this internship is “largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.” The NY Times gets real work from the interns, and only if the interns publish an article do the interns get paid (probably a union thing, my guess).

Perhaps the NY Times thinks it is off the hook because the intern is getting academic credit. Which means that the intern is paying tuition to work for free for the NY Times.

The tuition-for-internship structure is common in academia, including law schools. But that doesn’t make it legal for the employers to fail to pay the students for their labor.

I demand an investigation by Clarke Hoyt as to the NY Times’ labor practices with regard to student interns.

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