Student internship opportunities shrinking across the country

By Joshua Rapp Learn

An internship is often the golden ticket to scoring a job in journalism. But with media outlets, such as the Toronto Star and Sun News, laying off staff, are there still jobs to be had for interns? And will the unions allow that? Well, it ain’t quite what it used to be.

By Joshua Rapp Learn

An internship is often the golden ticket to scoring a job in journalism. But with media outlets, such as the Toronto Star and Sun News, laying off staff, are there still jobs to be had for interns? And will the unions allow that? Well, it ain’t quite what it used to be.

Elizabeth Dwivedi, Carleton’s undergraduate journalism administrator responsible has been keeping electronic copies of journalism job postings from the past six years. “There’s definitely [fewer paid summer] jobs that are offered,” she said. In her 2006 file, Dwivedi has job postings from newspapers like the The Barrie Examiner and the St. Catherine’s Standard that no longer reached out to Carleton looking for interns. 

“I think newsrooms in these times of cost-cutting are cutting back on internships,” said Melinda Marks, managing editor of the Waterloo Region Record. The newspaper has lost one of their two news interns this year. 

“I feel badly that we are not allowed to have more than we can,” Marks said. “It’s always important to get students into the newsroom because they bring fresh ideas and they’re so enthusiastic.”

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The Hamilton Spectator’s managing editor Jim Poling remembers when he first got hired as “an intern  working three shifts a week at The Globe and Mail in 1986, which he followed up with a summer internship at The Spec. “I was incredibly frightened, I never expected to stay,” he said about going into a city he hadn’t grown up in. “It was just me, the city and the newspaper.” But he worked hard and rose through the ranks to become the managing editor.  

Poling said the Spec’s number of interns had stayed consistent over time. They usually hired around four or five interns summer interns every year, but several years ago they had to suspend the internship program for a summer due to lay-offs in the newspaper. “We just can’t bring in interns when we’re laying off other people,” he said.

It’s not always been the case that interns missed out on opportunities in tough economic times. According to Stuart Laidlaw, the union chair for The Toronto Star, the paper’s radio room internship program began as a union initiative in response to a hiring freeze. “The union wanted to bring in some young people, and also bring some fresh blood into the newsroom with some new ideas,” Laidlaw said. More than 12 years ago before the radio room internship deal was negotiated, regular reporters took turns monitoring the emergency and police scanners.

“Our regular reporters weren’t really keen on doing the job,” Laidlaw said. “Very few enjoyed it.”

Now, the radio room internship might be on the chopping block. Management wants to contract out the work done by radio room interns, but the union has proposed an alternative: interns will now be paid at roughly 20 per cent less. “(The cuts are) unfortunate, but it keeps the program alive,” said Laidlaw, adding the union consulted with current interns before moving forward with the proposal.  So far, the program has been saved only for the summer 2013 term, but its future remains uncertain.

If it weren’t for internship programs, reporters like The Globe’s Adrian Morrow say they wouldn’t have got a jump start on their careers.  Morrow worked two different internships in the radio room as well as a regular summer internship. He then went through The Globe’s summer program, where he works now as it Queen’s Park correspondent in Toronto.

“I don’t know how I would have found a job without going through internship programs. If they are disappearing, I don’t know how people would get into the industry otherwise,” Morrow said. “It’s a foot in the door.”

Copy editing internships are also fast approaching extinction. Years ago, many reporters started careers as copy editors but today many newspapers like The National Post and The Toronto Star are fast eliminating and outsourcing those positions.

“There are no copy editors at all at the Toronto Star anymore,” said Laidlaw. “They’ve been replaced with page editors. And page editing requires so much training, that unless someone comes in with that aptitude already, it’s not likely to happen.” And at The Postmedia, copy  editing has been centralized at the Postmedia Editorial Services in Hamilton

Paid internships in photojournalism have also become few and far between. The Winnipeg Free Press and the Waterloo Region Record are among the few newspapers that still offer paid summer positions on photography desks.

In other media outlets such as the Free Press, unions have protected internship programs. “It would have to be renegotiated and that’s not on the table,” said Steve Pona, associate editor of the Winnipeg Free Press

The unpaid, credited internships that constitute a necessary part of graduation from most journalism schools are in little danger of disappearing, however. There are few, if any, paid broadcast internship positions in Canada.  Other than CBC’s Joan Donaldson award, which chooses eight graduating students every summer from participating universities, Ryerson’s internship program coordinator Suanne Kelman said she wasn’t aware of any paid television internships in Canada. With no viable alternatives in broadcasting internships, she said the big broadcast outlets like CBC and CTV “control the accredited programs more and more.”

“The television stations usually tend to be a little bit spoiled for candidates,” Kelman said.

Networks like Global BC have often had trouble managing their interns in the past, says Mark Cameron, a representative of the national Communications, Energy & Paperworks Union of Canada that works with broadcast stations from Victoria to Halifax. “I’ve always felt they have kind of mishandled the students,” he said. “They weren’t given a lot to do. Union members are always out to protect the jobs and make sure that companies don’t use interns as free labour and don’t put our members out of work.”

Whether things are getting worse in terms of student interns is debatable. Peter Bakogeorge, another instructor at Ryerson who organizes internship programs for students said media outlets should appreciate the value of interns.

“It’s (the media outlet’s) commitment to nurturing the young professionals that are going to be in your industry.”


Joshua Rapp Learn is a freelance journalist. He has had articles published in The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Winnipeg Free Press among others.




*Correction: The Edmonton Journal is not unionized as a previous version of this article reported. We regret the error.