All Work No Pay: The Value of an Unpaid Internship
What I gained from my unpaid internship and why all college students should take one
College students–the penny scrapers, Ramen Noodle eaters, willing to do anything to make 20 dollars specializers–should know better than anyone that the best things in life are free.
We are willing to do a lot for a little, an inclination that makes us ideal targets for employers. Thanks to the declining American economy and the suffering job market, we have to take what we can get, despite minimal or perhaps even no salary at all.
A growing trend among American companies and their student employees is the infamous unpaid internship. College graduates will unlikely enter the job market having not participated in one of these no-salary jobs, but why?
Now a junior in college, I have dipped my feet into several unpaid internships, one of which I am fully immersed in this semester.
I spend 16 hours a week as a newsroom intern at NBC4 in Columbus, OH, for absolutely no monetary compensation. Perhaps you are curious why a poor college student like myself would waste my time in such a way. Well, today I am going to reveal what I have gained–rewards for which no amount of money could compare to.
Entering this internship, I will admit I was skeptical. As I learned from prior experience, unpaid internships are not always what they are cracked up to be.
As a non-essential asset, an intern frequently performs monotonous tasks like filing and fetching coffee, while being shuffled from department to department. But from the minute I set foot in the NBC4 newsroom, I knew this internship was different.
The journalism field in particular relies on hands on experience–the first rewarding aspect of an unpaid internship.
In classes like Media Writing and Editing and Digital Media Composition, I have built a foundation of skills from reading a textbook and being tested on those skills. However, it was not until this internship that I was able to see how those skills I was reading about were used in practice.
At first, I was sent along side a reporter and photographer to shadow, observe and learn–something that no book could teach me.
Watching the news prior to this internship, I assumed reporters to be like puppets, merely looking polished while reading and repeating words writers composed for them. But after one shift with NBC4’s Mindy Drayer, I learned my assumption could not have been more off base.
On Friday nights I accompanied Mindy to several Friday night high school football games. At each game, I observed her collecting highlights, identifying players, interviewing parents and establishing a theme for the night’s package. She then maintained her deadlines by writing her scripts in the car ride back to the studio.
This exposure to real life journalism provided me with more knowledge in five hours than any book could do during a 15 week semester–proving to me the value of an internship, even one that lacks wages. For a few weeks I shadowed Mindy and other reporters, but one day by shift began with something different. My supervisor came to me and saying “Well kid, it’s time to throw you into the fire.”
For the first time I was going on a solo shoot–meaning I would have no reporter to shadow, just me and a photographer. I was a simultaneous mix of terrified and excited as I gathered my notebook and jumped into the news truck, but something inside me insured me I was meant to do this.
My first assignment? The Columbus Blue Jackets hockey home game opener.
After watching the game from the press box, I proceeded to the locker room to post-game interviews. I could feel my heart beating in my chest as I clutched the NBC4 microphone.
What if I ask the wrong questions? What if I don’t get the right answers? What if I completely crash and burn?
Then suddenly the team filed in. I took a deep breath, swallowed my fears and dove in head first. Surprisingly, standing there with the players, I was overcome with comfort as I held the microphone. Soon my nerves turned to exhilaration and the questions began spilling out of me.
In that moment I took the fundamental skills I learned in class and executed them in practice, an experience I could place no value on.
Yes, I dedicate 16 hours of my week to an unpaid internship, but I will be the first to say that no amount of money could give me the incredible accomplishment I felt as I single-handedly spoke to NHL players–getting an invaluable taste of the life I envision for myself as a journalist.
So whether you are a journalism major or not, my experienced unpaid internship can be applied if you are considering taking one. Although you are not receiving any physical means of compensation, the other values you gain cannot be defined through an hourly wage.
Taking an unpaid internship sets you apart and grants you real life exposure, something no amount of money could compare to.
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