Internship Programs: Learning from Condé Nast’s Mistakes

Meghan-Maher by

Remember when I wrote that post about unpaid internships?

Last week it was announced that the media giant, Condé Nast — owner of Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, to name a few — would be ending its much sought-after summer internship program.

For years, students from journalism, fashion, PR, and many other disciplines applied and crossed their fingers for one of the coveted opportunities to work for a Condé Nast publication for the summer. These internships provided valuable real life experience required by many “entry-level” jobs in the industry for recent grads.

So why would Condé Nast cancel this successful internship program?

The answer: Their internships were unpaid, or paid well below minimum wage, and that caught up to them.

Why it Pays to Pay Interns Fairly

Unpaid internships are especially common in journalism and government. Both industries are known for being a bit slower to change (especially compared to, say, a tech expansion-stage or startup company). So when the laws around unpaid internships changed the companies were not too keen on changing their age-old programs.

I wrote a post earlier this year summarizing the rules and regulations around unpaid internships. If you were to read through these Federal Labor Laws, you would see that most unpaid interns — especially the unpaid interns in charge of grabbing coffee — are not legal.

It’s now interesting to see these new laws taking their toll on companies that generally had thriving and high-demand internship programs that were either unpaid or offered pay well below minimum wage.

At Condé Nast, interns were reportedly receiving a stipend of $300-$500 a summer. It all came to head when two former interns — one from the New Yorker and the other from W magazine — decided to sue the conglomerate for violating state and federal labor laws. Condé Nast has not stated the reason for their canceled internship program, but you can draw your own conclusions.

The moral of the story? It’s less costly in the long run to pay anyone who contributes to your business — be they employees, freelancer, or, yes, interns — a fair rate.

Do you agree all companies should have to follow strict rules and guidelines around unpaid internships?

Senior Talent Manager, Engineering