The end of Gossip Girl-style internships Cond Nast softens its infamously harsh approach to work experience roles
19:35 GMT, 14 March 2012
20:32 GMT, 14 March 2012
It's long been the practice of fashion magazines to take on eager young people as unpaid staff, supposedly to 'show them the ropes' and give them some valuable insight into the industry.
It's so common, in fact, that from Gossip Girl to The Hills to The Devil Wears Prada, the grubby-glam world of the lowly fashion intern is frequently imitated in popular culture.
However, while Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port got to attend Paris Fashion Week and Leighton Meester's character, Blair Waldorf, in Gossip Girl gets a promotion, the reality is less prestigious.
Industry leg-up It's not unheard of for an intern to be offered a full-time job after
a placement, as with Leighton Meester's character in Gossip Girl, but it's rare
Instead of receiving free designer clothes or shoes, many interns are expected to work long hours, do demeaning tasks and cope with bullying remarks from superior staff – and they rarely get a placement after their (unpaid) stint.
However, the culture of using legions of unpaid, grimacing staff to prop up the publishing industry may soon be coming to an end.
Major magazine publisher Cond Nast, of Vogue, GQ and W, have implemented some radical changes to their internship program.
According to fashionista.com, work experience contracts at the company will now run for a maximum of one semester (unless they get special clearance from Human Resources), interns will only have to work until 7pm and will also receive expenses of around $550 for a full placement.
Unreal experience: In The Hills, Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port (right) intern for Teen Vogue and get to go to Paris Fashion Week for the magazine
Staff will no longer be able to ask
interns to run their personal errands either (no more desperate sprints
to the dry cleaner before it closes), and interns will need to be
earning credits for college courses.
Cond Nast has not officially confirmed any of these policies.
However, it's rumoured the company has also been contacted and criticised by the department of labour over the hiring unpaid interns during a time of high unemployment.
Another move may have hastened the company to nail down its internship program too – namely the recent lawsuit by former Harper's Bazaar intern Xuedan Wang against fellow publishing giant Hearst.
Perk free: In the Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway's character Andrea Sachs received free clothes and shoes but interns rarely see any bonuses for their work
In February, the New York Times reported that Miss Wang is suing the company for failing to pay minimum and overtime wages during her five month unpaid internship.
Unsurprisingly, a stricter regulation of the fashion internship policy is welcomed by potential interns.
Commenting on the fashionista.com story, reader Bailey Powell said:
Policy change: Cond Nast has tightened the rules surrounding interns
'I must agree with how exhausting and
infuriating it is to be doing the most mundane tasks tirelessly, day
after day, with a smile on your face and your sincerest enthusiasm and
not be rewarded, monetarily or otherwise.'
Another reader, Simon King, wrote: 'If someone is worth bringing on board to help with even the most mundane of tasks then they are worth paying.'
However, not everyone agrees the practice of unpaid internships should be abolished.
New York Times ethics columnist Ariel Kaminer says that while some internships are unprincipled and elitist (because they are only open to people who can afford to live without a salary), they still have their place.
'Even crummy internships have some value. A firsthand glimpse of the mail room may not be the stuff of dreams, but it's more informative than no glimpse whatsoever,' she said in the paper last weekend.