Alexandra Kimball’s personal before-and-after experience with inherited wealth leads her to argue that journalism has become an industry accessible only to the privileged classes. When you can’t afford to take unpaid internships or pay your dues with little salary, you find few open doors, she says.
Poverty doesn’t allow you to develop a linear career trajectory or a coherent professional identity, because when cash is hard to come by, you do whatever job will bring you more of it. But when you apply this short-term logic to a creative field, especially one that requires as much patience and investment and dues-paying as journalism, you come away with nothing.
To be a writer in this market requires not only money, but a concept of “work” that is most easily gained from privilege. It requires a sense of entitlement, the ability to network and self-promote without seeing yourself as an arrogant, schmoozing blowhard. And it requires you to think of working for free—at an internship, say, or on one of those gratis assignments that seem to be everywhere now—as an opportunity rather than an insult or a scam.
This is no longer an industry that rewards working-class values, in other words … It still seems strange to me that people work, unpaid, without a guaranteed job at the end. And I haven’t reconciled myself with the central irony here: that journalism, ostensibly a populist endeavour, is becoming a rarefied practice best suited, both financially and psychologically, to the well-off.
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Earlier: How to tell when unpaid internships are opportunities, when they’re an abuse | Would You Pay Five Grand to Work at Huffpo? (Forbes) | News organizations should rethink unpaid internships | Lawyers seek class action lawsuit over Fox internship programs | Former Harper’s Bazaar intern suing Hearst over unpaid internship