Mon. Apr 19th, 2021

You Can’t Put a Price On The Value of An Unpaid Internship

“Prioritizing earnings early on over experience is a big mistake.”

Social media can be a mixture of a vacation in paradise or a long stay in the sewer. Allow me to explain.

On one hand, the ability to share your content with folks who’d otherwise not know about it has great value. As a consumer of content, you also have the ability to learn about a lot of different things to improve your education. More importantly though, you’re given a chance to connect with others, and take part in conversations about subjects you have an interest in. That’s the paradise part.

The flipside, otherwise referred to as the sewer, is that a simple harmless post can turn into unnecessary drama. What started as a call to people to make them aware of an opportunity turns into having to defend your intentions and credibility to those who don’t know you, don’t follow you, have no connection to your profession, yet suddenly think they are the judge and jury assigned to your case. When you learn you’ve been going back and forth with @bitchfaceloser and @TeamStretchNuts and engaging with others with no desire to work in your profession who just want to stir the pot and preach from their morale high horse, it makes you feel like you wasted important time defending your reputation when it never should have been required in the first place.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I came across a simple tweet from Jane Slater of the NFL Network.

The tweet itself made it clear, the person retained for the internship would be entering into an unpaid situation. That’s when the chaos ensued.

Immediately after Jane posted the tweet which was intended for people who are in need of experience, she was attacked. In some cases, she had to even deal with personal shots being taken at her family. This was all due to her sharing information with her followers about a possible unpaid gig. Nobody forced anyone to accept the position, it was simply there if a person looking to eventually work in the business wanted to gain some reps, build some relationships, and invest their time contributing to an NFL draft project.

To be fair, there were a number of people who commented and said they wished the opportunity had been available when they started. Broadcasters also jumped into the discussion sharing stories of their early days and what it took to get to the level many of them are now at.

Which brings me to my own story.

I have what I have today because I once accepted an unpaid internship. I shared a thread on Twitter late last night where I pointed out that I spent my first six months in radio working for free. Would I have preferred to be paid? Of course, but if I declined that opportunity and the chance to get my foot in the door, that internship wouldn’t have turned into a job, the reps I gained to improve at my craft would not have been available, and the recommendations I received from my peers later in my career when I pursued other positions wouldn’t have been offered. I did jobs I didn’t love, and worked many crummy shifts, but everything I’ve done in radio today connects to those first four years where I learned every aspect of the business. I didn’t know it then but I’m thankful that I placed a greater value on investing my time in the studio and office versus worrying about if I was receiving my worth or not.

That’s one big mistake I’ve seen a lot of people make – prioritizing earnings early on over experience. It takes many hours of practice to become good at something. I programmed 5 radio stations in 4 cities over a 15 year period and have consulted many more over the past 5 years. Time after time I see and hear the same stories. If you expect a company to pay you to work as an intern when you don’t have the skills needed to do the job, why wouldn’t they just hire someone PT who’s more experienced?

The fact that many broadcast groups offer compensation for internships today is great, and if you can be paid to learn, awesome, take advantage of it. But it’s not your place to tell others what they should or shouldn’t accept. During your early years in this business, reps and relationships are what you need most. Every day you step foot in that building is a chance to make progress towards achieving your goals. You only gain that by being on the inside. If getting in there is only an option thru an unpaid internship and someone wants to take it, why is that an issue? It’s their life, their career, and they should decide what is and isn’t valuable to them, not someone on social media with no investment in their future.

Secondly, nobody ‘deserves’ anything. Watch the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ and get back to me afterwards on what one deserves. I saw that mentioned in one of the tweets to Jane, and after looking at other issues on social media about unpaid internships I saw some even try to compare it to slavery. That’s ridiculous and an insult to slaves. Slaves had no choice. One choosing whether to accept or decline an internship is far different than what people went thru physically and mentally a long time ago.

Seven Life Lessons from "The Pursuit of Happyness" Movie •

If you say you want to work in sports media, and you’re leaning towards passing on it because the first step pays $0 instead of $100-$200 per week, I think you’ll have a difficult road ahead. This is a business where fair or unfair, people pay a heavy price to do what they love. You’ll face years of struggle, miss out on important birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, maybe even relocate, and chances are you’ll question if it’s worth it many times. You may even do what I did once and leave for a few months, seeking a better paying job, only to discover it’s your passion and true love, and making less to do what you enjoy versus making more to do something you don’t is worth the trade off.

I’m not letting companies off the hook entirely. Many don’t do enough to compensate people in the building who aren’t the top ratings and revenue producers. Execs like to preach how important the ratings are, yet I saw folks who were #1-#2 in their markets lose jobs during the pandemic. It reminded me again that anyone who tells you it’s about ratings is full of it. We value ratings in programming because we’re competitive, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s about what you cost the company vs. what your market takes in. The more you make, the bigger the bullseye on your back. I also think some groups search too quickly for what to cut instead of what to keep or invest in to grow. Short-term thinking causes long-term problems. That unfortunately hurts our business too much.

That aside, if you think broadcast groups are going to expand their payrolls for folks who’ve yet to spend a minute in a building and aren’t ready yet to impact the bottom line, prepare to be disappointed. You can tell me that your time is valuable, you’re ‘entitled’ to make a living, and even point out how many millions the broadcast company you want to work at makes, but they have what you don’t – the platform, the opportunity, the experience, and an endless list of people chasing the same dream. If you want to be a rock star or actor, these challenges exist in those professions too.

Furthermore, if you had an unpaid internship and didn’t benefit from it let me ask you a few questions. Did you make the most of your time in the building or did you spend time hanging out, watching, and assuming others will find you for jobs instead of the latter? Were you someone that people wanted to be around and was accepting of critical feedback or were you tough to deal with? How many times did you talk to the boss in the building or the key talent to seek their advice on what you can do to put yourself on the path to a future position? Were you willing to relocate when jobs were available or did you limit yourself to one specific region? If I asked people you interned for to weigh in, would they agree with your version of the facts or claim you subscribe to an alternative truth? The bottom line, nobody owes you anything beyond that invite into the building. What you do with it while you’re there has a lot to do with where you’ll go next.

If you’re in college or just breaking into the business, you may hate hearing this. Maybe you’ll take aim at me like some did to Jane and you’ll call me out of touch, old fashioned, old school, heck maybe even old. I’ll use a different word – experienced. I’ve seen many thrive, some struggle to find their way and blame the business for their shortcomings, and a whole lot more throw in the towel because they weren’t willing to pay the price early on. This business is not for everyone. Some won’t think it’s worth it. Others will use it as the first step towards building a career. We all have choices to make. Whichever you choose, I hope it works out and you find happiness in it.

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