Intern To Investigate Unpaid Interns

Earlier this summer, ProPublica raised nearly $24,000 to investigate internships, with a focus on “documenting the emerging intern economy in the United States – a story hidden in plain sight.”

Yesterday, USA Today reported that ProPublica has hired recent-grad Casey McDermott to take on the task—but as an intern herself. As far as we can tell, that should probably just be a title only.

McDermott graduated with degrees in sociology and journalism from Penn State in May. She’s done internships at USA Today and is finishing one up at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Plus, in her senior year she was editor-in-chief of Penn State’s The Daily Collegian. By all accounts, she’s experienced, educated and more than ready to be given the respect and obligation that comes with being an actual employee.

So maybe it’s just us, but it seems a little ironic that ProPublica is using an intern (with, counting this project, two post-grad internships) to investigate how U.S. employers are relying more and more on interns to do work that normally and in the past would be done by an employee, and, in this case, by an employee the intern they’ve hired seems qualified to be. Anyone remember when internships were things you just did while in school?

Don’t get us wrong, this is an important project and the Kickstarter campaign to bring it to life was a brilliant idea. But given that they picked McDermott because she “had a unique mix of experience, and she was really passionate about this,” according to USA Today, why not do right and give her the position on staff she deserves, even if it’s a temporary position? The project was pitched as an internship and she is getting paid, but there’s nothing to stop ProPublica from shifting the title to something more fitting McDermott’s experience, just like there was nothing that would’ve stopped them from hiring someone who hadn’t yet graduated.

At any rate, congrats to McDermott for snagging this competitive spot (there were over 80 applications). We look forward to seeing your work.