What Conde Nast's Decision To End Its Internship Program Says About The Company's Priorities
Conde Nast would rather burn down their internship program than admit they exploited the hell out of people.
Cond� Nast, the venerable company that owns publications like the New Yorker has decided, after being faced with lawsuits from former interns who claim they were dramatically underpaid, has decided not to reform the practices of the program, but to axe it. As Women’s Wear Daily, which itself is part of the company, reports, “The end of the program comes after the publisher was sued this summer by two former interns who claimed they were paid below the minimum wage during internships at W and The New Yorker.”
Let’s be clear about what this means. As of January 1, 2012, minimum wage in New York was $7.25 an hour. In 2014, it will rise to $8.00. If Cond� Nast was to pay its next summer interns minimum wage, forty hours a week, for ten weeks over the summer, that would cost them $3,200 per intern. If each of the 26 publications in the Cond� Nast brand, which run from Allure, to Golf World, to Wired, hired ten interns for the summer, paying them minimum wage would run the corporation $832,000 for the entire summer. That’s a tidy sum, to be sure, but it’s also worth remembering that running a full-page ad, once, in Vogue, just one of the publications in Cond� Nast’s roster, will run an advertiser $181,286: in other words, you could pay the whole corps of Cond� Nast interns by selling 4.59 full-page ads in a single issue of Vogue.
And beyond that, the reason Cond� Nast’s internship program and others like them may be deemed illegal is that the publications in question get real work out of the interns in question, rather than providing those interns with educational experiences that don’t provide anything of value to the publications. Interns do real and tangible work for the publications for which they intern. When interned at The Atlantic, I transcribed interviews, fact-checked stories, and did research that helped editors make decisions about which stories to commission and reject (and that ended up in one editor’s book and as part of another editor’s decision-making process about which book project to pursue). I wasn’t paid for that work, but it was work that, at least in some cases, would have been performed by paid staffers if there hadn’t been interns to do it, and in another case, I was paid to continue doing it after my internship. That disjunct–as did the decision of The Atlantic to give some intern classes, though not mine, back pay, and to begin paying interns going forward–suggests that the magazine knew that the work had a non-zero value.