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Traditionally, journalism internships have provided employers with a “try before you buy” approach, and studies have shown that, in the past, an internship has provided a pathway into permanent employment. Furthermore, it can also be demonstrated that journalists have found their own internships a valuable experience and provide practical, work-ready skills for navigating the social structure of journalism. Anecdotally, it has been noted by the authors that internships increase students maturity, confidence and leadership skills. Forde and Meadows (2011) found that journalism internship programs, if run with a solid pedagogical foundation, enhance student learning.
The issue of unpaid internships in the media has been in the news again over the last twelve months. Fair Work Australia’s report Experience or Exploitation, released in January 2013, found the media industry to be among the highest in unpaid internships, including print and broadcast journalism, and public relations. In June, 2013, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) released a statement saying the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) had agreed to work with the MEAA to ensure “unpaid work arrangements throughout the media industry - including unpaid internships for young people - are fair and lawful” (MEAA, 2013). Internationally, similar concerns around internships are unravelling. In the UK, Labour MP Hazel Belars described the growth of unpaid roles ‘a modern day scandal’ and introduced the Internships (Advertising and Regulation) Bill. Part of the attention around the bill resulted from a 2011 FOI request that showed the BBC had used 6000 unpaid interns in the previous four years.
Ongoing, secure employment is increasingly difficult to get in some parts of the media industry and the authors have noted, anecdotally, that organisations seem to be taking advantage of students who are desperate to work in the industry. Many students in journalism programs still want to work for mainstream media organisations and are willing to spend time during their education working in an unpaid capacity. The FWA report surveyed students from the University of Technology Sydney to discover how journalism students viewed internships. However, UTS is a metropolitan university and its students may have a different experience of university than students in other areas. The University of Newcastle (UoN) is a regional university in a one university city and the communication discipline has strong industry ties in the region. Would the internship experience of UoN students differ from the students at UTS?
This paper is based on a survey conducted with students enrolled in the Bachelor of Communication at the University of Newcastle and will discuss internships, focusing on journalism and including recent issues that have been identified, and analyse the Newcastle experience within this context.