This story has been updated.
Starting in the fall of 2013, interns at the Nation Institute will be paid minimum wage for the first time in the history of the 30-year-old program — a decision that was spurred on by none other than the organization’s own interns.
“We want internships to provide workers a living wage for an honest day’s work,” former Nation intern Alleen Brown told ProPublica. “Our experiences may be very different from workers in a fast food restaurant, for example, but we share a common goal: we just want a dignified life.”
Brown was part of a group of 12 interns that published a letter to the editor in the latest issue of The Nation, presenting a case for higher pay. At that point, Nation interns worked full-time for a $150 weekly stipend, “an impossible prospect for many who are underrepresented in today’s media,” the interns wrote.
Nation Institute director Taya Kitman responded in the same issue, saying the Institute “appreciate[d] this thoughtful letter” and “has determined to increase their stipend beginning with the fall 2013 class.”
Yesterday, the Nation Institute confirmed in a tweet that it would begin paying interns the minimum wage in the fall of 2013 — a rate that the Nation’s own business writer has said is “not enough to make rent in any state.”
According to Kitman’s letter, the Nation Institute will also “continue to provide financial aid in the form of travel and housing grants to interns.”
“We see this as the beginning, not the end, of this conversation,” said Kitman in a statement, which also noted that the effort to increase intern pay began in the fall of 2012. “We hope that in the future we will be able to raise additional money, allowing us to pay our interns more.”
Brown, who is now a freelancer in Minnesota, said she hoped the Nation internship would help her parlay her journalism degree into full-time work in media. She said she survived on the stipend, savings from service industry work and credit.
“The stipend probably paid for food for a week, and then I used credit to pay rent,” Brown said. “Now the card is not quite maxed out, but I accrued a lot of debt.”
Brown said she was very pleased with her Nation internship, and the internship director’s support. But she’s still searching for full-time work.
“I was optimistic, but conscious of the fact that I’d probably have to come back to Minneapolis for a while and recuperate,” Brown said. “I like to go with the lifeline angle. I used my lifeline, and now to go back to New York, I need to get a new one. I need to save up some money.”
The Nation’s Spring 2013 interns hope other interns in publishing and other industries are encouraged to stand up for their own right to fair pay, according to Brown. They’ve launched a website with their letter, the Nation’s response and a space for other interns to share their stories.
We have reached out to Kitman for more details on the Nation’s new internship policy, and will update this post as soon as we get them.
Update: August 2, 2013, 5:25 PM: Kitman has gotten back to us. In response to our question on whether higher pay means there will be fewer interns in Fall 2013, she says:
We are using the renaming of the internship program as an opportunity to restructure. Rather than having web interns and print interns, as we do now, we're merging those positions. Nation interns will research and fact-check for the magazine, in addition to assisting with daily web projects on TheNation.com. Not only will this provide interns with a more diverse range of skills, we believe this reflects the increasingly integrated nature of print and web journalism, in general and in The Nation's newsroom. We are not yet certain how this will work out longterm but for the fall we are anticipating hiring ten interns rather than twelve. If we need more interns, we will revisit for the spring and hire accordingly.
Kitman also clarified that the financial aid to interns has been coming in the form of six to eight grants per year. Each grant averages five hundred dollars, and is need-based.
Update Aug. 16: Kitman says the Nation will indeed be hiring 11 interns in the fall, up from the 10 originally reported.
Do you have an internship story to tell? ProPublica is also collecting stories from current and former interns, those who couldn’t afford unpaid internships, as well as employers and internship coordinators.