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Monday, May 12, 2008

'UU World' announces Boston internship program.

UU World has had some excellent interns in years past, but they've always initiated the internships themselves. This year, thanks to assistant editor (and former intern) Sonja Cohen, the magazine is launching a formal unpaid internship program. If your educational and career goals point you toward an internship with a nonprofit magazine in Boston, please see the program description and get in touch with Sonja.

Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 12 May 2008 at 5:24 PM

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Rev Dano:

May 14, 2008 12:43 AM | Permalink for this comment

Well, it's about time an internship be made available for the UU World. The magazine has world class talent, excellent editors, contributors, book reviews, and excerpts.

But. An "unpaid" internship?

I dunno. Let me re-phrase: Bad Idea. Considering the UUA board sets compensation goals for church internships, it seems questionable that the UU World would offer an 'unpaid' internship.

Okay. I take that back: "questionable" is not the right word, "unconscionable" is the correct word.

If the UU World, with its circulation, its ad revenue, and all the rest is offering an unpaid, 3 month minimum, live in Boston internship, it seems as if we are living in a world of scarcity, rather than possibility.

I urge the Editor-- in particular(!)-- to rethink this 'unpaid business.'

BTW, I have no interest in being an intern, nor do I have any recommendations. I am concerned about interns (for the record, I have a fabulous ministerial intern who should probably be paid double what we're paying him, and it is a lot more than 'nothing').

Seriously. It can be a fantastic experience to support a great intern. "Support" is the key word here.

If the "UU World" won't choose to financially support an intern, what does that say about our movement?

[Poke in the ribs]

See you in Ft. Lauderdale!



May 14, 2008 11:59 AM | Permalink for this comment

Daniel, I share your interest in developing programs that make educational opportunities available to a broad range of people, and I wish the magazine did have money to pay interns. (I fully grant that an unpaid internship in Boston represents a significant financial burden for most people, especially to people who don't already live in the Boston area.) However, we don't have the money. And yet we still get requests from journalism students seeking internships with us as part of their studies.

Unpaid internships are a widespread phenomenon in the publishing world. (Beacon Press also offers unpaid internships.) We're attempting to formalize how we accept interns so that we can be better prepared and more intentional about responding to the inquiries we get from students who want an internship with us.

If it were to become a priority for the UUA to subsidize educational internships, of course I'd be on board with that. But, being the UUA denominational political junkie that you are, I'm sure you know which levers you would need to push to help make that happen. (I am not one of those levers.) I'm sure you also recognize that publishing internships are unlikely to rise to the top of the institution's priorities in the midst of a recession, declining investment income, and a decline in General Assembly registration revenue that is likely to result in end-of-the-year budget cuts.

In the meantime, I'm grateful that there are people with the resources and interest in an educational internship, despite the fact that we cannot pay them. The alternative to what you see as our "unconscionable" program is to have no interns at all. And that wouldn't do the magazine or the would-be interns any favors.

Jeff W.:

May 15, 2008 12:51 AM | Permalink for this comment

Let me just chime is as a former in-office editor, currently Consulting Editor for a nationally-distributed religious (Buddhist) magazine, who is also married to a former book editor and retains many friendships within the publishing world. Unpaid editorial internships are standard. Our religious magazine had them, as do many others. UU World is following mainstream practice for their field. If you look at comparable publications, such as Christian Century, Sojourners, etc, you'll probably find unpaid interns. It's perfectly conscionable to hire unpaid interns in the publishing world, including religious publishing.

Jeremiah Bartlett:

May 15, 2008 12:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just because other religiously-based publications, much less the industry overall, exploits unpaid labor does not mean that UU's should capitulate to and even encourage such behavior.

For once, it would be nice to have UU's serve as an example for social justice, instead of the endless sanctimonious nagging I am buried in each Sunday.

Let's lead by doing, for Priestly's sake!

Jeff W.:

May 15, 2008 01:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

Sounds like sanctimonious nagging to me, Jeremiah.

But let's be clear on the "exploitation of unpaid labor." If we're going to look at this in purely profit-and-loss terms, interns frequently provide little total value to the periodicals or presses they work for. Rather, they are often money-wasters, as paid staff spend considerable time teaching them how to use various tools of the trade and correcting their mistakes, a process that is repeated year after year as new crops of interns are trained. Not infrequently interns receive a degree of busy work which is created in order to give them something to do, rather than to take advantage of their presence.

As someone who has both been an intern and trained interns, I can tell you that the intern receives the far better side of the deal (providing that they are dealt with fairly, something unrelated to money). Interns receive important training, make contacts, learn to use industry tools, earn experience for their resumes, and get a taste of the industry to see if its really where they want to put their efforts. If they're really high-functioning, they may even get their first crack at a published by-line, which is a serious coup for a young person. Magazines and presses get someone who will make photocopies, do some filing and research that has to be double-checked by paid staff, takes up considerable paid staff time for training resources, perhaps works on the website or does some proof-reading (which, again, has to be vetted by staff), etc. Again, if they've had an exceptional intern they might also get a little writing out of this person, which involves a commitment of many more staff hours than would be spent on a professional writer with a similar assignment. At the end of it the intern moves on toward a paid position enriched by the new skills, while the magazine loses a person it spent staff resources on training.

Typically, it is paid STAFF who are the exploited ones in the publishing world, as they are underpaid and overworked compared to their degree of training and skill sets. Interns have it comparatively easy (not that there aren't some horror stories out there, of course, as there are for all levels of the editorial hierarchy). Again, I speak as someone who has worn many hats for multiple publishers over the years (including publishing assistant, editorial assistant, assistant editor, editor, copy editor, consulting editor, columnist, and author for Buddhist, UU, and non-denominational magazines and university and trade presses).

I'm sure though that if UU World had the capacity to pay interns they'd enjoy doing so. If you increase your donation to the UUA and earmark it for UU World internships they'd probably be delighted to receive it.


May 15, 2008 02:56 PM | Permalink for this comment

Three amens and a double huzzah to Jeff. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Jeremiah Bartlett:

May 15, 2008 06:40 PM | Permalink for this comment


As someone who was once an intern in the Boston area myself, I continue to disagree. I was always given at least a stipend, contributed valuable work, and felt integral to the "Team."

"Not infrequently interns receive a degree of busy work which is created in order to give them something to do, rather than to take advantage of their presence."

I think this comment says it all. Why go to the trouble of having the interns, if a publishing organization cannot be bothered to even know how to use them to their advantage? It sums up rather neatly my view that most publishing companies, along with most other old media, are on their way out. They simply cannot operate as effectively as new media, say, for example, this very blog.

Perhaps the supposed incompetence of interns is an indictment of English programs in our institutions of higher learning? Or is it more a statement that these young people are expected to be from financially well-off families, and therefore, can work for free? Work is work, and anyone's contributions should be honored. I am amazed that I am even having this conversation with other UU's.

As far as giving money, I give plenty of that and LOADS of my time to my congregation and my district. I've had little use for the UUA for some time now. But certainly, if a scholarship fund were started for UU World interns, I might be persuaded to contribute. I had no idea that this situation was so endemic in the publishing industry, and worse, has spread to our church.

I realize that my comments may well be construed as offensive, but I implore that anyone reading them dwell on the very concept of obtaining free youth labor. It bothers me on a profound level, and the argument that "everyone does it" just doesn't hold water for me.

Erica B.:

May 16, 2008 05:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

The comment about creating busy-work for interns also bothers me. I recognize that training anyone definitely detracts from the regular work of the paid staff, and that the staff might need to focus on their regular work at times, but the whole idea is to get the intern to the point where they can contribute usefully - and thereby overall reduce the staff workload. This is true whether the person is paid or not. Anyone new on a staff, of pretty much any type of work, requires ramp-up time, which is a drain on existing resources, until the person is up-to-speed. I don't think that should be an excuse not to pay an intern. Furthermore, not giving them real work will not help the general staff in the long run, particularly if there's a chance of hiring that intern as a member of the staff.

Additionally, if the whole idea is to help the intern understand what the industry is like and if it's something they want to do, in my mind, part of that is getting some form of payment and learning how to live off of it. I know that when I was doing my own internship in college, it was an invaluable part of the experience to be earning money, figuring out how much I had to spend on housing, food, etc. Realistically, journalism might not pay much, but it does pay something, and interns should have some idea of what they'll be getting into on that front as well.


May 16, 2008 08:05 AM | Permalink for this comment

It's fun being second-guessed -- one of the best things about being a UU, I suppose. Thanks, everyone!

In all seriousness, though, I think a few of you misunderstand the point of UU World offering an internship. It is not a cheap way for us to get work done; instead, we're offering an educational service that most journalism and publishing programs require for graduation.

Daniel seems to think the proper analogy for an editorial internship is a ministerial internship, but that's not at all correct. A better comparison for my clergy readers is a clinical pastoral education program -- most often, the summer-long intensive hospital chaplaincy training program -- that ministerial students have to pay for. Now that's a financial burden.

As for the comment that editorial interns must be given "busy work," that's Jeff's comment, not mine. We don't invent work for interns.

Finally, I'm very grateful that Jeremiah is so passionate about the subject that he'd consider contributing to a scholarship program to support editorial interns. If it's important to you that the UUA make this a priority, by all means get in touch with the fundraising folks and let them know.

Jeff W.:

May 16, 2008 10:08 AM | Permalink for this comment

This seems like people with no knowledge of the publishing industry second-guessing experts based on their misunderstanding of a few key words that push their personal buttons. Chris provides the names of three former unpaid UU World interns via the links above--if you're concerned to a degree beyond online carping why not just contact them and get a straight-from-the-horse's mouth view of what internship is really like? They'll set you straight.

As for busy work, my point--which I believe is perfectly clear from the context--was that interns aren't exploited labor doing vital tasks for a publisher that would cause the magazine/press to fold if the interns weren't present. Rather, they are students for whom "a degree" of busy work may be appropriately created in order to teach them new skills, help them demonstrate to their trainers that they can handle tasks and responsibilities, and keep them on-board while staff look for more important tasks they might be able to help with. It is busy work from the point of view of the publisher, who doesn't necessarily have a vital need that such tasks be performed, not from the point of view of the intern, who benefits from (again, here I mean responsible) assignment of new tasks.

I think our society has degenerated to the point where many people can't help latching on to one or two words out of a longer piece and dismissing the context and larger argument being made. I see this in my students a lot--they come to university unable to comprehend the overall argument of an essay or to think sympathetically about what an author _meant_, and I have to spend lots of time every semester teaching them skills unrelated to the actual subject matter of our courses. This drives our political machines into ugly directions, and fuels a whole industry of unnecessary punditry. And it's practically the force that drives contentious online "conversation" in many places.

UUs are called to be thoughtful, not just reactive. Instead of assuming the worst, go educate yourselves about the actual situation. Have you talked to a single UU World intern, or even followed the links Chris provided? What do you actually know about the publishing industry, and how much is your own imagination? Where do you expect the money for paid interns to come from? What ballpark figure do you consider fair compensation for editorial internship? How much do you think paid editorial staff makes? If you're truly concerned, this conversation can be continued once you've acquired a firmer grasp of the situation, which isn't the responsibility of this blog--it's yours, as the ill-informed instigators of this needless discussion.

Jeremiah Bartlett:

May 16, 2008 10:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

I promise to make this my last post on this topic, as my goal is not to start a flame war.

Chris - I have emailed Patty at the UUA about giving a contribution, as I do put my money where my all-too-active mouth is.

Jeff - When I read your posts, all I can hear is John Houseman's voice from "The Paper Chase." Please give your students a little credit, and try not to think that society is "degenerating." I don't believe that the average person is nearly as obtuse as you do.

In any case, I retain the firm and straightforward belief that compensation for all non-volunteer-related employment is a must. We can agree to disagree on this one.

Jeff W.:

May 16, 2008 11:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

Jeremiah, the inappropriate Hollywood filter you're applying to my posts is probably why you can't extract the plain meaning from them. Try teaching undergraduates for a living, you'll soon find that I'm not denying students credit, but talking about a real and well-documented crisis in higher education that is a serious concern to professors across the board. I didn't invent this situation, and I'm one of the people on the front lines every day trying to remedy it. I don't need you judging me, I volunteer many hours every week beyond my job requirements working with students to improve their skills, which they themselves freely acknowledge are bad--many get to college and feel utterly unprepared, and in a great many cases they really ARE unprepared. Go volunteer at a university writing program (we're always _desperate_ to get more help) if you want to be useful, don't get snide at me.

I am pleased though that you're going to donate some money to the UU World internship program, that's noble and should be commended. Maybe you could get a company to match you, or do a fundraiser at your church. UU World is a great resource that many denominations don't have a parallel for, one that we too often probably take for granted. Once you get Patty's reply about how to go about donating to the interns, please come back and fill us in on the details. We can get that info spread around various corners of the UU blogosphere and maybe enough people will take up the challenge that this conversation will be made obsolete. I'd certainly like to see UU World interns get some compensation if possible and I'm sure the magazine would too.

Robin Barraza:

May 19, 2008 11:01 AM | Permalink for this comment

What a strange conversation. Internships are part of an education...they are an extension of school. You don't get paid to go to school; you PAY to go to school. I did two, full year, unpaid, 20 hour per week internships for my masters program, and those internships were more valuable to me than they were to the sites. Why? Because it was part of my education. Interns are not staff; they are students.

h sofia:

May 20, 2008 03:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm with Robin on this one. I do think paid internships would be nice - namely because this means they would be more accessible to people from lower socio-economic backgrounds . But going from that point to calling internships "exploitive" seems like a really huge leap to me. Interns are not employees.

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