The unpaid internships debate: a clarification on our stance

Last week wasn’t just reporting the debate about unpaid internships in the media industry – we were part of it after a six-month, unpaid placement with Tesco was listed on our forums. The ad was placed in error – we do list unpaid internships, so long as they are within a reasonable length of time.

We had some useful Twitter conversations about the listing and the ethics of listing unpaid internships at all – these have helped us update our policy for posting such listings on the forum.

As part of the discussions, I was contacted by Tanya de Grunwald who runs the website, which is campaigning for an end to unpaid internships for graduates, to answer some questions on the issue. Not all of my responses were used in the resulting blog post – such is the editing process – so I thought I’d reproduce them here.

It would be really useful to hear your views on what kind of internships we should be listing on our forums, if any, so if you’re an employer, would-be recruit or recent graduate, please leave your thoughts in a comment.

My answers to Tanya’s questions (in bold) were as follows:

What is’s policy on advertising unpaid internships? Are you aware that it is legally dubious to do this, not to mention ethically?
Internships – paid and unpaid – are listed on our forum. We don’t receive any money for those posted on the forum, such as the Tesco ad (SEE BELOW – question 3).

We currently carry these rules for posting work experience/internship listings on the forum:

This forum is intended for genuine, time-limited work experience placements and internships (of no longer than a month’s duration) only. Placements should involve shadowing  (and learning from) working journalists at an in-office location. We reserve the right to remove at our discretion any posts that are deemed to be in breach of these rules.

You can post in this forum free of charge – however, in order to get a better response (and much wider exposure) we would recommend posting on our jobs board at

For more information about what constitutes a good work experience placement/internship please read the following post by forum user and freelance journalist Louise Bolotin:,519.0.html

These can be found at this link,2426.0.html and were updated yesterday to include a time limit of ‘no longer than a month’s duration’.

We want to provide a service to journalism students and job hunters who are looking for internships – either as part of their course requirements – or as a way to dip their toe into the industry and gain more experience. There is a balance to be struck between gaining experience with short-term placements and those employers that seek to exploit journalism students and graduates in a saturated market. Internships, conducted properly, can hold tremendous value for journalism students and graduates and we’ve reported on Skillset and the NUJ’s work to encourage better industry standards in this area. I hope we can continue to be part of the debate and drive to give better work experience placements and deals to new journalists.

We will be reviewing our policy on listing unpaid internships – starting with rooting out any that have been posted with a duration of  more than one month. The Tesco/Cedar ad was posted in error and has now been removed. I was interested to read in your blog post about the potential legal implications and I’ll be looking into this further as part of our review.

Do ads undergo any kind of screening process before they go live? What responsibility do you feel advertisers have towards protecting your applicants from exploitation?
I think I’ve answered this above – but just to clarify, we’re not paid for listing these work experience/internship opportunities on the forum, so they aren’t our applicants, though they may have been directed to the placement by our site.

Listings on this section of our forum are post-moderated: employers can list placements directly, in addition to our production team listing opportunities that they come across elsewhere. As mentioned, the Tesco ad has since been removed.

One thing to add: we hope that our forum and Twitter following will help us root out and flag up postings that they see as inappropriate. This discussion is useful and helps us modify our editorial and advertising policies in line with our users.

Did Tesco/Cedar pay for you to run this advertisement? How much do you charge?

None of the work experience/internship listings on our forum are paid for. We post interesting internship opportunities that we see listed elsewhere. I believe the Tesco/Cedar listing came from Gorkana.

Now that you have been made aware of this ad, will you be removing it?
We have removed the ad. It shouldn’t have been put up in the first place and we regret the error, though it has been useful in making us think further about our policy on listings for internships and work experience placements.

What will happen to any applications you have already received for this role?
See above – we’re replicating this ad, not handling any part of the application process.

Do you use unpaid interns within your office at
We regularly have journalism students and school students who need to complete work experience as part of their course come in to our office for one- to two-week placements. We do our very best to ensure the students have a worthwhile time here and try to tailor the placements to suit their needs. We also remember that they are students, still learning and we need to monitor and help them with this and not place unreasonable expectations on them. We do not currently pay such placement students.

7 thoughts on “The unpaid internships debate: a clarification on our stance

  1. Jen

    I think should only advertise internships which offer travel expenses.

    Last year I finished a £5,000 journalism MA, then undertook several unpaid internships (most without expenses) to land my first job. At the end of my course I panicked and signed up for a three month (“and then let’s see..”) internship at £70 a week. I was lucky enough to find a job before starting, but if I had done that internship I would have been earning £2 a hour. Is that fair pay for someone with two degrees and three work placements already under their belt?

    Unpaid internships might provide valuable experience and contacts, but they still stink. The only people who can afford to do months of them already live in London and are subsidised by Mummy and Daddy.

    Large magazine companies shouldn’t get away with using free labour. Even in a recession I refuse to believe that they can’t afford £10 a day to cover lunch and travel costs.

  2. Laura Oliver Post author

    Thanks Jen – the issue of graduate and in-course internships is key I think. Your comments are really useful to us as we’re trying to update our listings’ policy, so thanks for taking the time.

  3. Tanya de Grunwald

    Hi Laura

    I applaud you for posting about our correspondence – I’ve seen no sign of Gorkana being so transparent ; )

    (They also ran the Tesco ad).

    As you’ll have seen from my coverage of the Tesco story, I do not feel that your website is the ‘big fish’ here – the big problem is that internships happen at all, not that some websites occasionally run ads for them. That’s why I aimed my post squarely at Tesco and not you!

    And although I had some concerns about the legalities of sites like yours running these ads, from further reserach it seems that BECTU say that it is NOT illegal for you to advertise these roles.

    However, I do feel that this whole episode raises some interesting questions about how easy third parties make it for big companies to exploit young workers – and whether you have an ethical (if not legal) responsibility to make it as difficult as possible for companies to do this.

    I know lists guidelines about what is and isn’t acceptable – but it seems that many of your advertiser are too (ahem) pushed for time to read them properly?

    Since the Tesco story broke, I have found many other examples of unpaid internships listed on your site, including ones from Sainsbury’s (now deleted), Morrisons, Superdrug (‘Dare’ mag) and Weight Watchers.


  4. Tanya de Grunwald

    Sorry, I should have been clear that the unpaid internships I am particularly objecting to on your site are those longer than 4 weeks. Sainsbury’s, Superdrug’s and Weight Watchers’ internships were all longer than this – and Morrisons’ was ‘approx 4 weeks’. [This comment has been edited for legal reasons.]

  5. Laura Oliver Post author

    Thanks Tanya, I’m in the process of rooting out and deleting the ads that no longer match our policy as a result of the new time limit. Thanks for flagging these ones up.

  6. trampabroad

    I’m glad this long overdue issue is being taken seriously by your website.

    Employers: how about advertising some JOBS, at minimum wage if you have to, interviewing a range of candidates, picking the best ones, and training them on the job? It worked in the old days.

  7. Tanya de Grunwald


    I totally agree! the unpaid internships thing is a complete scandal – i think it is BUSINESS’s job to train up their junior staff.

    Legitimising these ‘internships’ is just a sneaky way of companies’ cutting their training costs by convincing the young that it’s THEIR responsibility to train themselves, before they can even apply to work somewhere.

    How did we get here?

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