Glorified Slavery (otherwise known as Work Experience)

As you’ll have gathered from my last post, I’m on the brink of returning home after two and a half years travelling.  Or rather, two and a half years abroad.  Because for most of the last 18 months, I’ve been based in British Columbia, Canada.  However, because I was still technically ‘travelling’ … my possessions at one point at least having been packed in a backpack, and my credit card bills still sent to my last UK residence … I adopted a traveller’s attitude to work.

Three and a half years after graduating from Cambridge, and two and a half years after the end of my Masters, I’m still in gap year mode.  As if the ‘different postcode’ rule applies to careers as it does (dubiously!) to relationships.

I didn’t have to worry about starting a career, because I was still on holiday.  Even if that holiday was lasting almost as long as my undergraduate degree!

And so I happily settled down to life as a nanny in a ski village.  It’s paid the bills, and been a lot of fun … just today I have eaten at a 5 star restaurant and visited the fire station, all as part of my ‘work’.  However, essentially the past two years will form a rather large hole in my CV, because realistically, with a Cambridge Law degree, and an IQ of 160-something … it’s unlikely that ‘babysitter’ is something I’ll use too often on my resume.

But I’m going home.  And so that resume is going to need dusting off.

As I explained in my last blog-post, I’m not turning my back on writing.  In fact, I’m hoping to just go back to the UK for six months, before heading to the States to turn my writing hand to screenplays.  However while I’m back home, I still want to be earning money in a manner which stretches my literary muscles … and seeing as my Masters is in Journalism, it makes sense that I look for a job, no matter how temporarily, in that field.

I have a Masters in Journalism.  The problem is … ALL I have is a Masters in Journalism.

I’ve never been paid for my written work.  During the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, I worked as Olympic Correspondent for an online sports magazine.  But because it was unpaid, the excitement of seeing my name in ‘print’ on my laptop screen died off pretty quickly, and once the Paralympics were over, I wasn’t all too inspired to remain on the unpaid staff.

That’s the problem.  Writing seldom pays.  And so as a writer, you’re expected the put in a lot of graft for very little monetary return.  Which is fine when you’re earning your money babysitting in Whistler … but not when you’re trying to support yourself writing full-time in the real world.

I only have a certain amount of free time each day.  And for the past two years, most of that time has been dedicated to my fiction work (also unpaid as of yet!), as opposed to non-fiction journalism.  So now, looking back at my journalism portfolio, I find it rather bare … which means one thing.

If I want to set so much as a foot on the journalistic ladder on my return to the UK … I need to start with work experience.

Back at university I loved work experience.  I did law, which meant in the summer before my final year, several major law companies pitched for me under the guise of work experience.  I was wined, and dined, and paid £300 a week to sit in a solicitor’s office and play on Facebook every day.  Not only did it look great on my CV, but ‘enduring’ four weeks of this ‘ordeal’ essentially guaranteed me a job at a top London firm!

Journalism work experience is not like this!  For a start you have to actually work.  And they don’t pay you!!

For the most part, journalism work experience involves doing everything a staff member does, but for free.

And this rather angers me!  Because, just because I haven’t ever been paid to write, doesn’t mean I can’t write.  My words are, arguably, just as valuable as those of any other writer at a publication.  And will be used just as lucritively.  So why should working FULL HOURS for free, be an accepted part of the profession?

If work experience was simply a case of pre-emptive networking, then perhaps I could understand … A week of sitting around the office, smiling, whistling and making coffee.  Or maybe even just a couple of days to get a taste of the ropes and decide whether they are the ones you really want to climb …

But four full, 40 hour weeks … unpaid, and without so much as a stipend for transport and food?  Now that’s just glorified slave labour.

And I’m sorry, but the excuse that there is ‘no money’ in writing is overused and unrealistic.  I read Vogue.  Or rather, I sift through the first 150 pages of expensive advertising, in an attempt to read Vogue.  (More on that in a later post!) It doesn’t take a genius to work out what the average advertising turn-over at a magazine is like … in addition to the ever increasing subscription costs.  So why not just give work experience staff a break?

If you are honestly going to scrutinise our CVs as if we are applying for a ‘real job’, and use us as such … then pay us accordingly!  If your selection process is as elite as you hope to suggest, then surely anyone you accept for work-experience will write well enough to earn at least a few pennies for her words?

C-C xx

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Filed under C-C Lester, General, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

One response to “Glorified Slavery (otherwise known as Work Experience)

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