George Mason Law School

Fighting unpaid labor one article at a time

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July 1, 2015

10:26 PM

In addition to my summer internship at New York Public Radio, I have not one, not two, but three freelance writing gigs. One is for The Odyssey, which is starting at the College this coming fall. I was recently named Social Media Director, managing all accounts to advertise College-related content. These articles are more therapeutic to write than actual work, as I am free to write in whatever format and on whatever subject of my liking. My second is for workplacetrends.com, where I am responsible for drafting all research briefs for HR professionals. It was started by Dan Schawbel, best-selling author and young entrepreneur.

These CEOs and senior staff are turning big profits off their free labor, making journalism an even riskier and more expensive career path than before.

My third — and definitely most interesting — freelance opportunity is for Slant. Slant is a start-up, and possibly the coolest, most visionary start-up I’ve ever come across. A former Huffington Post editor became dissatisfied with the unequal balance of profit and content between freelance writers and publication CEOs. Writers, who are responsible for nearly all content and traffic on these large host sites like Buzzfeed, are receiving virtually nothing in return besides a by-line and some published work to throw in their portfolio. These CEOs and senior staff are turning big profits off their free labor, making journalism an even riskier and more expensive career path than before.

Their platform is revolutionary and will make some serious waves in the online publication field. All staff writers—a title that I’m very proud to hold —get compensated for the traffic they bring in. So while I’m responsible for writing cool pieces, I’m also gaining valuable social media techniques to prime and package my work in order for it to succeed online so I can reap the monetary rewards.

Starting June 23, the website will go live and unpaid labor in the journalism world will soon become a thing of the past (hopefully). Slant will cover a wide range of topics, from campus news to health to entertainment to politics. In doing this, a diverse platform will emerge targeting millennials who either mindlessly peruse other online publications or heavily rely on these sites for an outlook on international and national news.

It isn’t a secret that unpaid internships cater to a higher socioeconomic background. Unpaid internships are a necessary evil. In order to be taken seriously in the job market after graduation, experience is necessary, and in most professions, experience requires unpaid internships in cities, involving hefty food, living, and transportation costs. As an aspiring journalist, this is all too familiar to me, and while I am honored to be a part of Slant’s ground-breaking steps at shifting the journalism hierarchy, it seems almost hypocritical and defeating that I fell into the “unpaid internship” trap.

Living in New York City is amazing, challenging, and life-changing, but I can’t help but constantly think how expensive this experience is and how lucky I am to have parents financially able and willing to let me participate in this lifestyle. I am torn between understanding the need for unpaid internships, especially somewhere like New York Public Radio which is non-profit, and completely resenting the fact that publication CEOs make six figure salaries while their main drivers for content and traffic are making virtually nothing — unless you consider a $12 stipend or a portfolio of work an adequate reciprocation to afford NYC living.

But we can’t forget about all those students at the College and nationwide who had to turn down an opportunity because they could not afford it.

The Conde Nast settlement raised awareness of the issue of unpaid internships, but caused one of the largest magazine companies to no longer offer any internships, either paid or unpaid, leaving ambitious journalists one less place to apply to for job opportunities.

I am so incredibly honored to have each and every opportunity that has been given to me in the start of my professional career — whether it has been paid or unpaid. I am even more honored to take part in Slant’s mission to fight this inequality. I hope you ditch those other online publications and jump on the bandwagon to support a company eager to level the playing field.

As College students pursuing a liberal arts education, we can all sympathize with the unpaid interns. Whether we have an unpaid internship, or a few unpaid internships, we are all doing it with the hopes of bettering our futures. But we can’t forget about all those students at the College and nationwide who had to turn down an opportunity because they could not afford it.

Whether I was a Staff Writer or not, I would encourage all of you to read Slant. Your click could help solve this problem one industry at a time.

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About Author

Daria Grastara
  • Daria Grastara

Daria Grastara '17 is an English and Government double major from Hillsborough, New Jersey. She was previously Opinions Editor. Follow @dariagrastara on Twitter.