Life never works in absolutes, does it? There’s always an exception to the rule. I know there have been times I did something I’d never said I’d do. I’ve broken my personal rules far too often. But if I didn’t do those things, I wouldn’t have experienced some rewarding things in my life.
We should remember that when we’re talking to young, aspiring journalists. I remember sitting on a panel with a woman who told a class of journalism students to never work for mainstream media. So the advice is to never get a job too because there are only so many jobs in independent media? You shouldn’t be closing doors for yourself.
Just like the advice of “never work for free.” Of course we all want to be paid for our work, but isn’t there more reward to some work than just dollars and cents? It’s why I liked this blog post that factors in the “unless” factor for working for free. “Don’t work for free unless it’s adding to your value in the market.”
I know the debate happens quite often about if we should pay interns or not. Many people can’t afford to be interns without being paid. It’s understandable. But what if the experience gained you networking opportunities that could open further doors for you? Or the internship could help you develop skills?
When I was in college I had two internships. Neither paid much money, and the small stipend barely covered my transportation costs on the Washington Metro. One of the two internships, in the communications department of a lobbying group, didn’t teach me much. I babysat the copier and labeled slides. Many times I did homework for my evening classes. I would say the experience was worthless except to teach me I didn’t want to do public relations.
But the second, an internship with the Student Press Law Center, was far more rewarding. The journalism interns report and write stories for the organization’s magazine. We were the ones who would put together the whole thing. And Mark Goodman, who was the center’s executive director, was a great editor and mentor (I ran into Mark at a conference nearly a decade after my internship and he remembered me). Needless to say I learned a lot. The internship also gave me perspective on freedom of speech issues that still sit with me today.
Today there’s plenty of things I won’t do for free, especially as an accomplished journalist, but there are a great deal of things I will do for free. I’ve joined the crew blogging at Ranger Nation recently, something I’m not paid to do. But it’s fun and it’s about a team in which I am passionate. It might not even give me an edge in my career, but it is an outlet away from my regular work that is fulfilling.
Always think of the “unless” factor about anything, including working for free. What opportunity could working for free give you from the experience? What skills could you gain? How can it add value to your personal brand? If it’s something that could help you down the road, it’s worth considering.