Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Why can Canada’s big-money magazines justify asking students to work for free?

Patricia D'Souza

I can sort of understand why bright young journalists are so eager to work as unpaid interns at progressive publications like This Magazine. After all, I volunteered my services as a copyeditor for a few years (while still working full-time) before joining the magazine as editor. So I appreciate the appeal of being part of the community surrounding the magazine, and working for a greater cause.

And now that I’m on staff, it is more clear to me than ever why I’m doing what I’m doing. But every day I come to work, check the trap for mice and adjust the tarp that prevents the rain from falling on my desk, I hope that our volunteers, interns and poorly paid writers realize that no one is living large off the money we are not paying them.

Which is why I have so much trouble understanding how so many of Canada’s big-money magazines can justify asking students and new graduates to work for free.

I hope you’ll be inspired to take action against such magazines after reading the inaugural column of our media columnist, Arthur Johnson. As editor of Canadian Business in the 1990s, Johnson created the magazine’s celebrated internship program, which, despite its modest wage, remains one of the country’s highest-paid magazine internships.

The sad fact is that This Magazine cannot afford to pay even modest wages. Our writers make one-tenth the standard industry rate and our summer students make minimum-wage. The money you spend to buy the magazine goes a tremendous way to allow us to pay even that.

But think for a minute what might happen if the money Canadians spent each year to buy big-money magazines that rely on sweatshop labour—we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars—instead went to support independent titles like This Magazine, which desperately want to pay a living wage, but can’t.

If that happened, small magazines like This might not be so small anymore. We’d be able to invest in our writers, editors and artists, to pay all our interns, rather than just the summer students, who are the only ones to qualify for federal wage subsidies.

Until that happens, though, we will continue to rely largely on volunteer labour, on those writers and artists who contribute to our pages or behind the scenes issue after issue because they love the magazine, believe in the cause or just plain like our company.

We truly wouldn’t exist if it were not for them, which is more than those big-money magazines can say.

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