Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Value Of Experience Depends On The Experience

You long to enter the publishing world but you can't get far if you don't know how the industry works. Without experience, you can't get a job to learn how the industry works because who is going to pay you for training? Your lack of skills just aren't worth anything.

Which means you would be expected to work for nothing, with the experience you gain having more value than some paltry salary.

All well and good, but what if your work experience consists of mundane office chores that don't teach you a thing about publishing?

Diana Bruk landed a non-paying job at Scribner during her days at university. She thought she was going to earn an education in the publishing industry by paying with her time, just like she was earning an education at school by paying with cash. Her employer would gain from the free labor, and she would show potential bosses what she was made of. In the long run, if all went as planned, she would shine and when she graduated Scribner would give her a real job and realize the expense of her training from the profits her dedication and hard work would yield.

To Ms. Bruk's dismay, she was given a stapler and told to connect the pages, when she was not shuffling those papers. There was nothing of the publishing industry inside knowledge to be gained from her chores. Indeed, she saw herself as a menial laborer who was being used. Instead of an industry intern, she was given the dullest tasks that had no relation to what she wanted to learn, and she didn't earn a penny from her time.

Not quite the return on investment that she sought when she landed the internship at Scribner.

Ms. Bruk is suing Scribner's parent Simon and Schuster, seeking back pay and whatever damages might apply to a victim of publishing slavery.

She is not the first intern to sue. Other publishing entities have been taken to court and later reached settlements with their former interns, while some cases are under appeal or have been thrown out. At the same time, publishers fearing future troubles have done away with internships completely, removing a very valuable source of education that is not to be had in a classroom.

The solution is simple, of course. Interns could be paid some sort of stipend so they are not taken advantage of. By offering a salary, the publishing company might feel more compelled to get something of value from the intern. Expectations would rise, and the intern would have the opportunity to rise to a challenge instead of dealing with the boredom of photocopying.

In the end, the loss of internships and the mentoring that is expected will not help the publishing industry develop new ideas with infusions of fresh and eager talent. The same holds true for the entertainment industry, where it's very much about who you know. If you can't get in to make some acquaintances, what hope do you have after you've completed your degree?

About the only industry that profits is the legal profession, in particular the law firm that is representing Ms. Bruk and several other former interns.

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