Should Interns Be Paid or Unpaid?

Giving away cashIt’s one of the most hotly contested issues around right now. No we aren’t talking about Alex Rodriguez and Biogenesis. We aren’t even talking about Obamacare. The hot debate lately has been over whether interns should be paid or unpaid.

Over the last few weeks, this story has been front and center. On Aug. 14, the Lean In Foundation’s Editor-At-Large, Jessica Bennett, posted on her personal Facebook page that she was looking for a “part-time, unpaid” intern. The post had many positive responses, even \ from those who were interested in the part-time gig. It was the negative responses that really put fuel on the fire. Gawker’s Valleywag blog picked up on it and the heat was on. A few days later, Lean In Foundation’s president, Rachel Thomas, posted on its Facebook page that they would start a paid internship program.

Now, on Aug. 20, media giant Conde Nast announced they will not pay its interns anything at all (they were getting a stipend). Earlier this summer, two former interns filed suit against Conde Nast over wages. It seems like the currents are getting stronger and strong for paid internships.

However, let me make one point. When I interned at a Philadelphia area television station in the mid-90s, I wasn’t paid. When I did my internship at a radio station during that same time period, I wasn’t paid. Should I have been? Honestly, I never thought I should. I was getting paid with experience. Because of that experience, I got my first job after graduating. Then, I was paid.

While I believe that some internships should be paid, does that mean every single one must be? No. If you do a ten-hour-a-week internship, do you deserve pay? I’m not so sure. Now, if you are working at a PR agency and doing the equivalent of what a junior account executive would do, you should get some reimbursement.

This paid versus unpaid debate will go on until there are better rules in place on what should govern a stipend or some other form of payment. Interns that aren’t being paid shouldn’t be taken advantage of. However, potential interns shouldn’t go in assuming they should be paid, either.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Let us know in the comments.