On Monday, Jane Slater of the NFL Network shared an opening for an internship for broadcasting journalism students: setting up, recording, and editing Zoom calls with NFL prospects. As Slater said, "Great experience."
Only problem? Like many, the internship is unpaid.
Which sparked a heated debate about the relative fairness of unpaid internships and, in a larger sense, doing work for free.
Plenty of people supported the idea of unpaid internships; many who responded felt they owe their career trajectory to those early experiences.
Then there's the other side.
"Unpaid internships are just exploitation," tweeted a freelance science journalist in response, "even when you were in college and too young to understand that ... "
Another response: "Unpaid internships present an illusion of opportunity but actually profit companies with free labor from people who are already financially secure, providing them with experience and connections that poor people cannot afford to get ... "
You may agree. After all, you've invested significant time and money in your business or profession. You provide value. And even if you're just starting out, still: Hard work should be rewarded.
But there are different kinds of rewards.
And sometimes the "pay" comes in a different currency.
Some organizations can't afford to pay interns. Like a nonprofit striving to put every possible dollar to work helping the constituents it serves rather than covering administrative costs. Or a bootstrapping startup where the founders aren't taking a salary. The only "pay" they can offer is training. Experience. Connections. Relationships.
The opportunity for an intern to add actual skills and achievements to a résumé or CV.
If, of course, you can afford to take an unpaid internship.
I paid my way through college by working a full-time job. An internship -- much less an unpaid internship -- was out of the question. (Oddly enough, my full-time job turned out to be an internship of sorts since I spent the next 20 years in manufacturing.)
For some, no matter how great the non-monetary rewards, unpaid is a nonstarter.
And that's OK. There are plenty other ways to gain experience. There are plenty of other ways, as Seth Godin says, to "choose yourself."
You can learn just about anything you want, for free. You can connect with almost anyone through social media. You can publish your own work. Distribute your own music. Create your own products. Attract your own funding.
You can start a journey down almost any path you want. While an internship may be nice, it's certainly not the only path.
And then there's this: As with many things, whether or not an unpaid internship is "fair" is in the eyes of the beholder. If the non-monetary rewards outweigh the cost of time, an unpaid internship may be the perfect option, especially in relatively niche pursuits.
If the rewards don't outweigh the cost of time, or you can't afford to trade unpaid time for paid time (I couldn't), then an unpaid internship doesn't make sense.
And, in a larger sense, if the rewards don't outweigh the cost of time, the company or organization will find it difficult to fill those spots. That's why some industries have a long history of successfully filling unpaid internships; plenty of people clearly feel the return is worth the unpaid effort.
Ultimately, fair or unfair is an individual decision that comes down to a simple equation: the ratio of what you give to what you get.
Think of it this way: If you go to college, you have to pay to learn.
At least with an unpaid internship, it doesn't cost you anything -- except time -- to gain experience and learn new skills.