Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Pick me, but I won't work for free: The expectation of free content.

Image from my own Instagram
Why should you do something for free if you're good at it? But why shouldn't you if its all you want to do? Because you have bills to pay and a TV license fee you're currently pretending is non existent. There's also this thing called starvation you might want to avoid.

It is a common misconception and assumption that graduates are prepared to (and should do) anything for free, as long as it helps them in the long run. We buy into this with a peppy, pro active and somewhat whimsical attitude. It will look good to employers, we say. A year following my graduation, I can tell you that you should never do anything for free. During your studies, yes. But after you have your degree? No, you've done the hard work. Do it for yourself and blog or contribute because you want to, but don't let someone else gain from what you have done for nothing. Unless it's The New York Times, there's always an exception.

In June 2012, StudentBeans conducted research which demonstrated that almost half of students questioned would work for free, the explanation was that it would be in order to jump start their chosen career path in an unpredictable and staggering job market. In plain terms, we will take what we can get. That means doing whatever we need to do to reach the top, or even the middle.

Conde Nast got hit with a lawsuit  in June for paying their interns as little as $1 an hour. Interns who worked for W Magazine and The New Yorker filed a lawsuit after the magazine company failed to pay them at the end of their internship. Now, the media conglomerate have abandoned their rate of pay and insist that interns should work for nothing. In the United Kingdom, most interns are unpaid and paid internships are few and far between. Especially in print media due to what is left of it's little breathing and shrinking life form.

In the United States, interns are expected to work long and demanding hours without stipend, with some interns complaining of working up to 50 hours a week. British employers are less demanding, and newspapers and media companies in the UK are happy to take on people to do unpaid work experience, there are too little people to do the amount of jobs that need doing, so a lackey is welcomed into the fold for a week. As someone who has done work experience, I can say it was invaluable, but I did it during my studies. Would I do it now? Probably not. Unless it was an unmissable opportunity. Like I said, exceptions.

In a world where nothing comes for free, success has an escalating price we just can't afford. If journalism is alive, why aren't we doing something that keeps us the same? This is the price we pay for a system that broke down, and for a medium that was too slow to transition. Newspapers are dominated heavily by readerships that are under the assumption that digital content should be for nothing, and this is a problem of hypocrisy for the media companies. Mainly because they expect the same thing, from wannabe hacks like you and I. The media machine is a beast, but beasts need to survive. Its people like us who are feeding it, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Without the beast, we would have no purpose and no ambition. We would only be able to inform our family and our friends, and partake in a game of Chinese Whispers where no information is credible. We wouldn't reach large audiences, we wouldn't fulfill our insatiable need to tell stories to strangers. We need the beast to publish us, so we do what we need to do.

Like most of you, I have my share of unpaid work on my CV. It will look good to employers, we say. Well why are we still working for free?