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Letter to the Editor: Drop your high school internship fee

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Editor’s note: Read Daily Editor-in-Chief Holden Foreman’s response here.

Stanford Daily Editors:

Drop your $2,000 internship fee. It is reprehensible to ask people to pay to work for you, to sell your bylines and to place artificial financial barriers to enter your program.

If you were still running an in-person program, it would make sense to charge some sort of money, to pay for housing and food and facilities, but this program is virtual, with no cost of travel, transportation or food. Your program page says the fees go toward Daily operations, including editors, but the cost of the newsroom should not be on temporary workers.

If you were running a program without pay, it would be understandable. Many student papers across the country are suffering and many offer programs where students work for free. You are charging $2,000.

The program’s page says full scholarships can be provided to those with need. Is this an unlimited scholarship, given to the top 50 applicants if all 50 of them are unable to afford the $2,000? How many were given out last year? Even if the scholarships do fully fund need, it is still a barrier to students and a deterrent from applying. Students may fear they won’t be chosen if their financial need is too high or lack the time and resources to jump through hoops to get the aid for this program, and it puts them in an uncomfortable spot of having to disclose their financial need to a student editor.

Your fee 1) filters out capable writers who would do a great job writing for you, 2) furthers inequity in journalism and 3) teaches your business managers the wrong way to develop revenue streams.

1) We are in the midst of a global pandemic where many working families have lost their jobs but still are required to pay rent and feed themselves. Demanding the equivalent of three months of rent to qualify for this program cuts out talented high school reporters whose parents have lost jobs due to a shuttered economy, including every daughter and son of reporters. These are reporters who are more than qualified to report for you, and reporters who would bring quality to your site and a name to your brand, but can’t because of financial difficulty caused by the pandemic. At that point, you are hurting your own quality. There is a reason employers pay salaries: to get the most qualified people possible to work for them. It’s the same reason why Ephialtes argued for the pay of public workers. Talent comes with salaries, in the world of college newsrooms talent comes even on a volunteer basis, but talent leaves when you begin charging such a high price which, as I argued above, does not go to food, housing, transportation or any other implementation fees traditionally associated with in-person trainings since this is virtual.

2) Every accepted applicant who does have the wealth to qualify for your program will have bylines on your site, which will not only help them apply to other colleges, but will help them when applications come to apply for Stanford. You are giving the rich but undeserving a façade of talent, and are giving them a head start in college admissions. The Asian American Journalists Association conducted a study where they found that 15 percent of interns in 2018 at the New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, NPR and the Chicago Tribune came from 1 percent of American four-year colleges, including Stanford. Sixty-five percent of interns came from exclusive schools that make up 13 percent of all four-year colleges. Your fees give a direct pipeline for the wealthy to buy their way into your college, and then into the rest of the industry. You are working against talent, and are working for the continuation of the wealthy in positions of powerful storytelling.

3) This is not the way to pay for your operational costs. The traditional way for a paper is subscriptions, advertisements and book sales. Student newsrooms have solicited subscriptions and student government allocations. Now, newsrooms are adding donations and events to the mix. If you are short on money, seek donations, sell advertisements or solicit subscriptions. Do what every other student paper is doing. Innovate and expand your revenue streams.

Lead student newsrooms and be an exemplar of what the journalism industry should be. Do it right, not with arbitrary costs on the backs of future journalists or by limiting access to opportunity.

I am not the only one with these concerns. Hanaa’ Tameez of the Nieman Lab wrote that the cost of the program was gross.

“Wait…how is this real? Particularly in this media market, and what’s happening with journalism locally and nationally, this seems exploitative,” author and freelancer Rainesford Stauffer wrote.

“To clarify… when I did this it was free. The paper started charging, w/ aid to anyone in need, so it could start paying its staff for running and teaching a summer program. I didn’t know the fee was so high and also find it concerning, esp. when it’s still called an internship,” Stanford Daily alumna Hannah Knowles wrote, who later asked to remove her endorsement of the program from your site.

Waive the fee or offer refunds to those who paid. You will be out of money, but so are the rest of us. It’s too late to go back and find the people who couldn’t apply to work for you this year, but removing the fee will allow next year’s application process to find the best interns regardless of their family’s wealth.

Aidan McGloin, reporter at Mustang News.

Co-signed:

Madeleine Beck, managing editor at The State Hornet
Deanna Schwartz, managing editor at The Huntington News
Jane Avery, city associate editor at The Daily Free Press
Janelle Salanga, associate campus news editor at The California Aggie
Izz LaMagdeleine, former assistant culture editor at Fourth Estate
Caitlin Hernandez, managing editor at PCC Courier
Margherita Beale, former editor-in-chief at The State Hornet

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