In recent years, the media industry has been attacked over its unpaid and low-paying internships that have become almost a requirement for aspiring journalists.
In June 2013, a federal judge even ruled that unpaid internships at the movie studio Fox Searchlight were illegal because the jobs did not provide an educational experience and failed to pay minimum wage. The decision sparked a stream of unpaid intern lawsuits, and publishing giant Condé Nast shut down its internship program four months later.
Perhaps to avoid being associated with these sorts of internship programs, media outlets like The Huffington Post, Gawker, and Buzzfeed have in the past several years launched what they call “fellowships,” The New York Times reports.
In academia, fellowships provide graduate students with grants that allow them to pursue research. But in media, The Times reports, the difference between an internship and a fellowship is “largely semantic.”
For instance, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith tells The Times that the difference between an internship and a fellowship at his site is that while both pay $US12 an hour, the fellows follow a “structured curriculum.”
Meanwhile, at the Huffington Post, fellowships pay just $US10 an hour, despite the position’s prestigious academic connotations.
Writing at The Awl, Eric Chiu explains that at many outlets, interns and fellows even share many of the same responsibilities.
“For fellows at outlets like Gawker Media or Grist, responsibilities include fact-checking, researching or writing posts, and production, all on schedules similar to a full-time employee’s,” he says, describing duties other organisations give to interns.
Even if fellowships do provide more educational opportunities than internships, The Times writes that the positions are not giving young people the stable, full-time, paid jobs many applicants really need.
“I think this question of internship and fellowship … creates more preliminary levels and hoops to jump through before saying, ‘O.K., she’s ready for that full-time reporter gig,'” employment attorney David C. Yamada tells The Times.