Department of Labor

In Unintended, But Totally Expected, Consequences: Condé Nast Eliminates Internship Program


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Condé Nast, the globally renowned media publisher that produces magazines like Glamour, The New Yorker, and Wired, announced late last month that it will no longer offer its internship program. The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by two former interns, Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib; in June, the interns sued Condé Nast for months of backpay, alleging that the publisher violated federal and state labor laws.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mr. Leib alleged that the New Yorker paid him well below minimum wage—in stipends of $300 to $500—for each of the two summers he had worked at the prestigious weekly, where he reviewed and proofread articles. Ms. Ballinger alleged in the complaint that she was paid $12 a day for shifts of 12 hours or more at the fashion magazine.

The case is still pending, but Condé Nast's decision has been made. The current crop of interns will not be affected – they will just be the program's final participants.

The details of what Condé Nast will do moving forward are unclear though. Will they replace the internships with more competitive paid positions? Or will the publisher simply reshuffle their existing workforce? The company has been silent since the announcement.

Reactions have so far been mixed. Numerous former Condé Nast interns have lamented that the elimination will mean lost opportunities for future students. "It's disappointing and kind of ridiculous that it had to come to this," Rachel Rowlands, a senior at the University of Michigan who interned at Glamour Magazine this summer, told USA Today. "I had an amazing experience at Condé Nast, and I honestly feel bad that other college students won't be able to have the same experience that I did."

Dylan Byer, a media reporter at Politico who completed internships at The New Yorker, told the New York Times that he valued his experience and disagrees with the lawsuits. For people to accept the terms of an internship and then turn around and retroactively sue their employer seems "disingenuous," he said.

Yet another former intern told Buzzfeed that her internship prepared her for the reality that the print media industry doesn't pay very well, even for full-time employees:

"A few years [after completing my Condé internship], I interviewed for a job as a features assistant at Vogue… an editor asked me what my parents did before telling me how much money I'd make: $25,000 a year."

Indeed, a brief perusal of Condé Nast's average salaries shows that Editorial Assistants don't even crack $30,000 per year.

Even those advocating against unpaid internships expressed their frustration and apparent surprise at the news.

The Fair Pay Campaign, a student-run organization with the rallying cry "No-one should have their dreams denied because they can't afford to work for free," tweeted:

SHAME on Condé Nast for ending their internship program, instead of paying a living wage.#payyourinterns

Likewise, the lead attorney representing Leib and Ballinger, told the Wall Street Journal:

Our goal isn't to end internship programs. Our goal is to…make sure they're legal, either by paying minimum wage or making sure they meet the criteria the Department of Labor has spelled out.

Condé Nast is the first major firm to eliminate its internship program since the flurry of unpaid intern lawsuits sprung up this summer. However, lawyers and employers are predicting that many firms may start to cut their programs—or offer just a few paid positions instead of many unpaid ones. So despite advocates' desire to open doors for struggling students, it seems the "Great Unpaid-Intern Uprising" may result in employers closing off opportunities altogether. 

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  1. This is where you put in a plug for Reason’s intern program.

  2. All together now: DUH!!

  3. To allow Cond? Nast to take an interns at below minimum wage would be slavery. Clearly the only sane response is to force Cond? Nast to offer highly paid internships. If they respond by closing down, then force them to stay open and fully operational and offer highly paid internships. It’s the only way to avoid slavery.

    1. I would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Do you pay your writers minimum wage with benefits?

      1. Of course. Since I have a newsletter, I am subsidized by the government since they want to save print media. Therefore, I don’t have to spend money in a way that brings in a profit, but can instead spend it in a way that makes me feel better about myself.

    2. Totally unsustainable.

      The way to do it would be to have a special board in the Department of Labor determine which companies are allowed to have interns, and then the government would pay their living wage so the company didn’t have to. This would, of course, be funded by raising the payroll tax on the other businesses and workers.

      1. Not mention that gov’t entities can still have unpaid internships.

  4. The little shits who work these internships are the types who no doubt thing the minimum wage is just fabulous. I am happy to seem suffer for once.

  5. In Unintended, But Totally Expected, Consequences

    The Iron Laws are pleased with you, Jess. Lion well towed, sir.

    1. Er, doesn’t Jesse (correctly) contradict your so-called Iron Law?

  6. Feeling conflicted. It’s hard to be against anything that harms the corporate media.

  7. I feel like this is rather like arguing about vacuum tube manufacturers underpaying their engineering interns.

    Because it would be so unfair to prevent poor students from taking internships in an obsolete industry.

    If regulations were rational, Conde Nast would be positively BANNED from offering internships, for the students own good.

    1. “If regulations were rational, Conde Nast would be positively BANNED from offering internships, for the students own good.”

      I dunno.
      Years ago, when I was partner in a small bizz, we paid a local kid a couple of bucks a day to (sorta) sweep the floors after school.
      He learned to show up on time, to get along with the people working there, etc.
      IOWs, just plain how to act in a job. I was able to follow him enough to know he did OK, last I knew of him.

  8. For people to accept the terms of an internship and then turn around and retroactively sue their employer seems “disingenuous,” he said.

    Indeed, it’s the same entitled bullshit behind claims of “wage slavery.” If you don’t like the terms don’t agree to them.

  9. Jo didley is not going to like that.

  10. SHAME on Cond? Nast for ending their internship program, instead of paying a living wage.#payyourinterns

    But then they wouldn’t be internships. Idiots.

    1. Meh. I got paid $13/hour in my first internship, but that was for a company that produced things of value.

      1. I got $12/h but I was happy about it and knew it was a good opportunity.

  11. Simple solution: make the interns pay for the experience.

    1. That’s essentially what they did with our labor the last year of medical school, when you did the same job as 1st-year residents, who are being paid $50K for their work, but you paid $50K to do it.

    2. I like that, Scrote. Pay the interns minimum wage, then charge them the same hourly rate for the experience.

      Everybody wins! Plus, the interns get some experience with the withholding taxes.

      “But, but, you’re charging me more than you’re paying me!”

      “Take it up with Uncle Sam, kid. Now, if we don’t get a check for the difference by the end of the week, you’re fired.”

    3. There are negative salary internships out there.

  12. I want to be paid a living wage for scanning my own groceries at Safeway because they only have one human lane open at 2pm on a Saturday.

  13. I interned for Exxon the summer between my junior and senior year of college for $17/hr. It paid for my last year of school. +1 for a EE major.

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