There was an article in today's MediaGuardian about last weeks Student Media Awards. It quoted Alan Rusbridger, editor -in-chief of the Guardian, telling students that it was a "great time to be a journalist" albeit at "a fantastically insecure moment because people can't yet absolutely put their finger on the economic button that's going to prove it all works."
What the paper failed to report however, was firstly the runners-up (I know! Apparently even second means feck all nowadays!) and, more importantly for this piece, when Rusbridger enthusiastically announced, "the best thing about student journalists is that you're all FREE!" Pursuing debate at the after party indicated that many of us felt this wasn't in fact our best attribute.
Regarding this speech, I was asked today by a fellow shortlisted Guardian Student Media Award achiever, who is writing an article about the issue of unpaid work in general, what I thought. He asked:
Do you have any kind words of wisdom about the editor's speech?
Do you think it was fair?
So here is my brief opinion of the whole unpaid work experience issue / Alan Rusbridgers comment that night:
"As a group who had just been acknowledged as some of the top student journalists in the country, it was a rather painful kick in the teeth to then be told that our best trait actually was the fact that we are “free”. What Alan Rusbridger should have said was that it was commendable that we are so dedicated to our journalistic ambitions that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve them, even when that - as it usually does - involves working for free. Yet he seemed sincere, and even mocking in his initial declaration, much to the obvious annoyance of us students.
It is a worry, and makes me ask is this condescending opinion shared amongst all the editors? Do they always view student journalists as free lackeys rather than as potential journalists they’d genuinely consider investing within? And if this is the case - does it not indicate that we are wasting our time, efforts and money partaking in work experience that is apparently so disregarded?
To an extent we have to accept that we are liable ourselves for becoming such easy and desperate free labour. Perhaps we should put up more of a fight, perhaps we should put a cap on the amount of free work that can be done by any one person. But then, as Girush Gupta has found, to kick up a fuss is to be ostracised from the journalism community, and if you don’t want to do it, there is always someone else who will.
What Rusbridger said was very unfair, and he is, of course very much mistaken; we’re not free. No-one is free. For now, we take payment in the experience, contacts, skills and knowledge we obtain, but mainly, we continue building up our work experience in hope that one day our efforts will be acknowledged and procure a permanent paid role. And there is a limit – there has to be – we won’t and can’t work for free forever. But drawing a line over your ambitions is a tough decision, and ultimately, this habit of the ever-extending work experience period is going to cost the journalism world a lot of bright and eager young minds.
It is a catch-22 situation that certainly needs to be reviewed, and a media issue that Rusbridger certainly shouldn’t take so lightly."
What does everyone else think? Some comment / debate would be lovely.