The legality of unpaid internships has become one of the workplace’s most controversial issues. But in some creative industries, they can still be essential to launching careers and can offer young talent a glimpse into the inner workings of big-name establishments with a distant promise of employment. It can result in a Catch-22 for ambitious upstarts: internships offer a foot in the door—but at what economic cost?
Enter Intern magazine, a biannual title dedicated to providing a public platform for interns in creative industries while also drumming up debate about today’s unpaid work epidemic.
It’s the brainchild of 29-year-old photographer (and former intern), Alec Dudson, who spent nearly a year volunteering his time between Domus magazine in Milan and later Boat Magazine in London. Rather than setting off on a traditional job trajectory, Dudson’s experiences inspired him to move back to his hometown of Manchester, England, to create his own independent title, for which he is now seeking crowd funding on Kickstarter. His campaign reached its £5,500 goal Monday, with eight days left to raise funds. It means that in October, he’ll follow up the title’s Issue Zero newspaper teaser with a fully fledged first issue that will clock in at around 144 pages.
Accepting submissions from disciplines including photography, design, creative writing, architecture, and fashion, Dudson sees his new title as a curated springboard for undiscovered talent. “The last thing I want this to be is ‘10 Steps to a Good Internship,’” Dudson said of the content in his magazine, in relation to the media’s current formula for covering intern culture. “Those pieces are incredibly condescending, and for most part entirely useless. In no way do I want to be that.”
Instead he sees his project as “something that possesses culture, something that has a real meaning to it.” He considers the title a “balancing act,” one that “speaks to interns on their level, empowers them, and gives them a voice.” Intern’s tagline, “Meet the Talent, Join the Debate,” demonstrates a more generalized appeal. The magazine will “engage people on a number of levels,” he says.
The magazine’s inaugural cover—which depicts a pretty, artistic-looking girl with a scowl—takes inspiration from Indie fashion titles such as Purple. “It goes back to idea of accessibility,” Dudson said. “With the nature of the subject being quite heavy, the cover—very much a play to fashion magazines—is a way to draw people into the debate.” Inside, diverse visual and literary content is also intended to appeal to a variety of readers. And while the magazine is rooted in creative occupations, Dudson will “feature some accounts from different industries to gain more perspective” on the macro effect of an internship.
While Dudson hopes that Intern will include varied accounts from the unpaid talent fold, in no way does he want it to offer bias. “I don’t want to create a magazine where people who agree with internships don’t have a voice,” he said. “Both sides have to have the same opportunity to voice their opinion.”
Editorial outlook aside, Dudson himself believes that internships, however valuable, have become somewhat of an irrepressible beast. “If you are in a situation where a given industry is only accessible to people who can afford to work for free, then the landscape of that industry could be wildly different in 10 to 15 years,” he said of the model’s shortcomings. “Is creativity something you can only possess when you are wealthy? Surely it should be accessible to people who are creative. I think this could lead to a really dangerous situation.”
Only one month into his Kickstarter campaign, Dudson’s message is starting to catch on—but not with everyone. He has already received “at least a dozen messages from people asking if I want them to do unpaid work for me—it’s ludicrous!” he says. “I would never let someone work unpaid on the project apart from myself,” he noted of his project’s monetary structure—which has left him sleeping on his younger brother’s couch while seeing Intern off the ground.
But hopefully Dudson will soon have a bed of his own. Intern has already received orders from booksellers around the globe, including retailers in Warsaw, Berlin, Taipei, and the United States. But he is realistic about what Intern has in its future. “This magazine certainly can’t offer a solution to the problem, but you have got to tackle these things bit by bit,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s very much about starting from the start.”