Former interns sue Conde Nast

The New York Times | ProPublica

Former New Yorker intern Matthew Leib and former W Magazine intern Lauren Ballinger are suing Conde Nast, saying they weren’t paid minimum wage. Their suit says Leib “was paid $300 to $500 for each summer he worked,” Christine Haughney reports.

Ballinger tells Haughney she “was paid $12 a day to work in W’s accessories department.”

She said that even one of the editors at W marveled how poor their work conditions were.

The editor said the job was reminiscent of Anne Hathaway’s job in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but worse, “because we don’t get any makeover in the end,” Ms. Ballinger said in the interview.

Leib and Ballinger asked for class action status for their suit, which like several other high-profile lawsuits regarding internships is being handled by the law firm Outten & Golden. The firm represented two interns who sued Fox Searchlight Pictures for their work on the 2010 film “The Black Swan”; a judge ruled Tuesday that Fox Searchlight violated labor laws.

An ongoing suit by a former Hearst intern can’t be tried as a class action case, a judge ruled last month. And last year the “Charlie Rose” show settled a case brought by former interns. (Rachel Bien, who is married to a friend of mine, represented plaintiffs in all three aforementioned matters.)

ProPublica is planning an investigation of what it calls the “intern economy” and is attempting to crowdfund the hire of — what else — an intern to help out. As of Thursday afternoon, ProPublica’s Kickstarter page for the project has raised about $7,000 of its $22,000 goal, with 13 days left.

The intern, who will be paid, will visit college campuses and interview students about their internship experiences, ProPublica community editor Blair Hickman told me via email. “We really want this intern to be on the ground and visiting college campuses and talking to people face-to-face and really gathering a volume of stories.”

Hickman had four internships during her university education. Only one of those was paid, “and it was not in journalism,” she said. “I learned a ton,” she said. “The two I did in graduate school would have been difficult to do without my loans.”

Incidentally, crowdfunding like this is an experiment for the nonprofit ProPublica. “With investigative stories you don’t often know where they will lead, but most crowdfunding is looking for very definite product to deliver,” Hickman said. The Knight Foundation is matching donations on the project, which Hickman says will proceed whether the crowdfunding is a success or not.

“Employers who rely on unpaid interns to churn out large sums of work without pay are contributing to a failing system in which people on the lowest level of a professional chain are presented with two options: make do or get out,” ProPublica intern Hanna Trudo wrote on the site Monday. “Many talented young people have chosen the latter. Their employers have, in essence, bet against them.”

Related: How to tell when unpaid internships are opportunities, when they’re an abuse| How journalists can make the most of newsroom internships

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