How to Help a Young Person Just Starting Out

It’s about them, not you.

Will Leitch

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On Monday afternoon, a reporter for NFL Network named Jane Slater posted a note on Twitter — see, that was her first mistake —advertising an unpaid intern position. This led to immediate backlash, with many commenters pointing out that “unpaid intern,” while certainly having a grand tradition in the working world, is another term for “exploited labor.” Slater defended herself on Twitter, which is another term for “inevitably making things much worse.”

This opened the floodgates, and even led into a digging into Slater’s past, where it was discovered that the primary reason she was able to survive on such a piddly salary was because … surprise, in college she was financially supported by her family during those years, particularly her grandfather, who is president of something called Wolf Brand Chili. (Which looks kind of good for canned chili, I’ll admit.) This ended up making her detractors’ point for her: The reason unpaid internships are so fraught and unjust is because the only people who can take them are people who are already wealthy and/or have financial support, thus unfairly, from the get-go, culling the future workforce down to those who could afford to work for free years earlier, something that’s a leading factor in limiting diversity in media because the people who can afford to do this are overwhelming white and well off. It seemed particularly egregious to claim that those who weren’t willing to work for free “don’t understand grind,” which is dangerously close to saying, “if you can’t afford to work for free, you’re not working hard enough and you’ll never make it.”

What was lost in this was that the whole thing started simply by Slater trying to help out broadcast journalism students in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where she lives and works, by promoting an unpaid internship (not hers) that would give these students the industry experience they’re looking for. Slater ran into trouble when she tried to defend herself, and then doubled down, and next thing you know she’s writing

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Will Leitch

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com