The morality of unpaid internships have been getting quite a bit of airtime, be it the lawsuit of the Fox Black Swan interns or now-successful professionals reminiscing about their own experiences as the lowly and unpaid. And of course, there’s been no dearth of posts commenting on these issues. While some coverage has taken interesting approaches to getting through the noise, (like ProPublica’s intern-to-investigate-internships campaign), most of the commentary isn’t adding new insight—or suggesting solutions—to today’s controversial internship economy.
Alec Dudson is an exception. The 29-year-old former photographer, who lives in Manchester, England, did two unpaid internships over the course of 2012, after which he found himself “no closer to getting a paid job,” than before he began working for free. Fed up with the cycle of unpaid positions, he has created Intern magazine, a Kickstarter-funded project whose campaign closes on
Intern is meant to act both as a commentary on issues surrounding unpaid internships and as a showcase for the otherwise-unpaid interns whose work Dudson will commission for the magazine. (Dudson plans to pay all the artists, writers, and photographers whose work appears on the magazine’s pages.)
The magazine’s Kickstarter reached its £5,500 funding goal on July 30, and a couple more days of fundraising remain. Dudson has printed a promotional newspaper for the project—which he’s calling “Issue Zero”—to distribute to Kickstarter backers while issue one is still in the works. He hopes to release the first issue in October or November, though he is realistic about the many challenges he may face as the magazine makes its debut.
In Dudson’s mind, only a few groups of people tend to comment on internship issues: current interns, former interns, and people who work in industries that take on interns. He hopes that his project will encourage other, perhaps unlikely, participants to join the conversation. “What we’re hoping we can do through the magazine is draw a wider audience into this debate,” he explains. “Through both design aesthetic, and also through a mix of content.”
When it comes to the “showcase” element, Dudson has no problem appealing to the regular suspects. He describes his vision: “Studios or companies who are looking for new talent could pick up a copy of the magazine and see someone whose work they really like, and be like, ‘Damn, these people aren’t being paid? I’ll pay them.’” In this way,Interncan act as a “springboard for a professional career” for the young people whose work has been featured. Dudson hasn’t yet decided if there will be regular contributors, though he wants the magazine to act as “an open and unbiased platform” for a variety of intern work.
That desire may force him to switch up the contributors each month. Due to the campaign’s rapid success, and the resulting media attention, Dudson says that his inbox has been inundated with emails from young people seeking to submit work to the magazine. “It’s also, disappointingly, been flooded with people offering to work on the project for free,” he adds. “Which of course I’m not going to allow, because it completely misses the point and undermines the entire project.”
He has received some very impressive things so far, he says, but the sheer volume makes it impossible for him to make many promises to include the submissions in Intern. As a more immediate solution, he has launched a Tumblr called “internwall,” where he features some submissions, hoping to provide a little extra exposure for the talented youths who contact him.
While it seems that Dudson started this project with others in mind, it became his way of realizing his own interests. He had been working bar jobs during and after going to college and knew something had to change. It wasn’t enough for him just to be making money; he wanted to find something he loved to do. His discouragement after the unpaid internships he completed was the last straw that set him to thinking up a solution.
“There’s always that point— it’s human nature— where you strive to do something that gives you a sense of fulfillment on a far higher level,” he says. “I managed to find in myself a real passion and desire for [this project]. And hopefully a reasonable knack. Otherwise we’re all screwed.”