Would You Pay to Work?

O tempora o mores! Surely this would be Cicero’s response were he right here right now. Newsquest, one of the largest publishers of local and regional newspapers, is seeking to charge students for working for them. Cashing in, on the desperation of students to land their first gig? Also, a think tank has started to charge interns £300 for a reference? Read on for some background information about these outrages.

Newsquest Charges Students to Work for them

According to the Guardian, Newsquest has begun sacking its professional staff and replacing them with student journalists who instead of getting paid pay the newspaper to write. The company have, however, insisted that their initiative is not an attempt to replace professional journalists.

To participate in Newsquest’s initiative, universities or colleges are required to pay the company a “registration fee” of £100 and every student needs to stump up £20. Students will have the privilege of writing an article a month for a duration of eight months, according to Newsquest, with each article being published in the company’s online paper. Those students who complete the batch of articles will be fortunate enough to receive a “letter of recognition” from the editor, which students can later submit as a reference for future job applications. Oh, and the successful student journalists will also have their names in Newsquest’s “award ceremony brochure, which is distributed around London”.

Is it really that bad out there? Surely if the students’ articles are of good enough quality to be published, then they should be paid for their work? The general secretary for the National Union of Journalists, Michael Stanistreet, responded to Newsquest’s initiative with appropriately strident and robust disapproval:

“The company’s cynicism beggars belief and preys on young people desperate to get a break in a competitive industry”

Is this a portent of some kind – are we seeing the start of something much more sinister, something that careers sites such as Graduate Fog imagine? Employing unpaid interns is appalling enough, but this? Unsurprisingly, the initiative has drawn praise from a few quarters, who appear to endorse Newsquest’s attempt to give students a “valuable opportunity” at a “small price”.

But undergraduate student journalists writing for publishers –or anyone else for that matter - shouldn’t be charged a penny.

Reference Costs £300

Imagine that you’ve worked diligently, productively and punctually as an unpaid intern. Your internship comes to its natural conclusion, and you ask your employer, the beneficiary of your hard work and productivity, for a reference. He charges you, debt-laden as you are, a not insignificant £300.  Feel sick yet?

This, according to the Guardian, is what Jan Mortier of the think tank Civitatis International has done. He calls it a “fair administrative fee”. But fair for whom? And why? Because you’re talented, unemployed and vulnerable, desperate to land your first job? In case you’d be tempted to cough up the cash, remember this, as the Guardian points out: as soon as money changes hands, the reference is rendered invalid.

It seems that unpaid work is no longer the worst deal for those seeking to get their foot on the first rung of the employment ladder. O tempora o mores! There’s nothing new under the sun, of course. I’m told we’re going back to the future – this kind of thing has happened before.

See also: What Should You Do After You Finish University?

Graduate Fog