Northwestern’s Journalism School is Sorry for Scamming Students

As part of its Internship Investigations project, the journalism non-profit ProPublica dug into the mandatory Journalism Residency program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The gobsmacking results are in:

At Medill, students pay $15,040 in tuition for the privilege of working full-time jobs as unpaid interns. During their mandatory quarter in Journalism Residency, as it is known, students work full time at news organizations such as CNN Documentaries, Self and WGN Chicago. But instead of paying interns, employers pay Medill $1,250 for every student placed. In turn, students receive academic credit and a small stipend from the university for relocation expenses, ranging from $600 to $1,200. The most generous stipend amounts to just $2.72 an hour — far below the federal minimum wage.

In other words: Medill is getting paid by both enrolled students and the cash-strapped media companies where they “intern,” and pocketing the difference between the placement fee and the students’ relocation expenses. Worse: Up until last year, Medill forbid students from working another job to supplement their sub-minimum-wage income. It’s as if Medill is deliberately trying to exclude from journalism careers anyone who isn’t already very rich.

There’s evidence Medill is suffering from a guilty conscience: In a weirdly apologetic letter sent to internship sponsors in July, the school meekly asked them whether they could afford to pay their student-interns minimum wage.

Medill would like to know whether you would be willing to pay a student who is doing a residency at your site and, if so, how much you would be willing to pay. Would you be willing to pay your state’s minimum wage?

(Would you be willing to comply with the law?)

Northwestern is hardly alone here. These kinds of un- or underpaid arrangements can be found elsewhere—for example, NYU’s Journalism School. Which only underscores the openly parasitic bond journalism schools have with the actual profession. After all, you can’t teach journalism in a classroom. (Sorry: it’s impossible.) The only reason J-schools absolutely must exist is to pay the salaries of journalism thought leaders like CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis and NYU’s Jay Rosen. None of these institutions employ full-time journalists who are doing journalism. These shameless rent extraction schemes, however, do more to hinder would-be reporters than whatever else these schools do to encourage them.

But it’s not like the professorial classes are going to agitate for change. Why would they? Students keep on paying their universities, which keep on paying them. They’re perfectly positioned to critique these conditions but have every reason not to. To quote former Gawker reporter Ravi Somaiya (now at The New York Times), concerning the story of a reporter who often donned a fireman’s uniform to access taped-off disaster sites:

Impersonating a fireman is doubtless illegal in some way or another. J-schools could, would, should, never teach their students to do it. Which is why they produce the most plodding, report-by-numbers literalists imaginable.

Anyway: Don’t go to journalism school. Don’t go to journalism school. Don’t go to journalism school.

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