Unpaid Work

Recently I’ve been thinking about unpaid work in journalism and publishing.

Before I got the job I currently have in the industry my writing was published in thirteen different online and print publications who didn’t pay me. Some of them couldn’t – being political or arts blogs – but some were national newspapers and magazines who could, and should, have paid me.

They didn’t because – as far as I know – none of the businesses I worked for were making a profit. Sales of their publications were going down, advertising revenue was drying up, paid employees were being laid off…

Also, I didn’t have, or was working towards, a formal qualification in journalism at the time. In a sense, I didn’t deserve to be paid like any other worker.

On the other hand, especially by the end, I could work largely unsupervised or pitch and write a feature article without any editing back and forth.

It got me thinking that there should be a separate work experience wage, an apprentice wage, in journalism and publishing. Although they aren’t a ‘thing’ in this industry, the apprentice wage is a recognised legal right similar to the national minimum wage. It’s currently £2.68 an hour, which sounds insultingly low, until you calculate that for a Monday to Friday 9-5 job (with an unpaid hour for lunch) this works out as £93.80 a week – nearly double the level of jobseekers allowance for under 25s.

To my mind there’s nothing wrong with paying an apprentice less than a regular worker, as long as they are being supervised and the work experience is treated as a training and portfolio building period.

A degree means very little in the creative industries, it’s portfolios and work experience that matter. However, there’s no industry regulation of work experience at the moment and no payment structure, creating a situation where those who can afford to work for extended periods for free (and put up with being ignored, mistreated and exploited) are rewarded with jobs in publishing, fashion, broadcasting and government.

Do we want our media to be full of that kind of people?

Here are a couple of creative vocational qualifications in the area, which would be more useful for aspiring workers:

HND Practical Journalism, Fife College
HND Visual Communication (incorporating Graphic Design), Fife College


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