A good start

On occasion I've been known to rant about the way that some publishers use interns as essentially free labor. Recently, some interns have pushed back, filing lawsuits and seeking class-action status for complaints against for-profit companies that required long hours at little or no pay.

Three weeks ago, ProPublica launched a Kickstarter campaign that it hopes will raise $22,000 for a 16-week project that would investigate internships and create a microsite to report on the topic. The project description that appears on Kickstarter provides the details:

The microsite will feature multimedia reporting and data visualizations that creates a geography of unpaid internships. Our intern will hit the road, traveling to cities and college campuses across the United States to interview current and former interns, employers, career counselors and parents in our attempt to chart the intern economy.

Who benefits most from these internships? What protections exist for interns who encounter discrimination or harassment? Are interns being fairly compensated? These are some of the questions we will tackle.

We’ll use video, animations and graphics to tell the stories, and use new tools to make them interactive. You’ll be able to follow our journey on blogs and social media, in real-time — a new approach to investigative reporting. Instead of spending months reporting behind the scenes, we’re opening our investigation up to provide more opportunities for you – interns, parents, employers, educators and others – to help us report the story.

Happily, the ProPublica intern will be paid $700 a week, plus related expenses.

I learned of the campaign just last week, via a tweet from Pablo Defendini. So far, the project has raised less than half of its budget, and only nine days remain.

This is an issue that a great many people feel strongly about (many of them former interns). If you're one of them, head over to Kickstarter today and pledge what you can.

After that, encourage your colleagues and friends to do the same. Shedding a light on the true nature and scope of internships won't cure what ails us, but it's a good start.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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