I loved my magazine internship. I worked full-time: fact checking, occasionally copy editing and writing a monthly column with another intern. I was never paid, but I didn’t care. I learned how a magazine is produced and I got experience I could put on my resume. I suppose this was payment enough. Did I expect to get a job there when I finished the internship? Well, I hoped I would if I worked hard, but on my first day of training, the intern I was replacing told me not to expect one and that they didn’t create new positions for interns to fill. Oh well.

A lot of journalist hopefuls realize internships are the best place to learn about magazines. But most internships don’t pay (or pay very little) and most magazines expect interns to work full-time. An intern either has to have a guardian angel footing the bill or slave away nights at a part-time job. More interns realize there isn’t a guaranteed job at the end – so is it worth it?

eye Weekly production editor Bert Archer seems to think so but he was frank about the magazine’s compensation. “It’s three months of free labour for whatever they do,” he says. Though eye hires interns from all backgrounds, the main criteria are their ability to write, listen and come up with ideas on their own. Interns have written everything from small band reviews to cover stories. Archer says he makes it very clear that interns may not be hired afterwards, but he does point out that more than half the staff were once interns.

From Canadian Business magazine to Saturday Night to The Walrus, interns are expected to work full-time, fact checking articles, researching and generating story ideas. Many interns work extremely hard in hopes that an employer will keep them in mind if a position where to ever open up. “I know that they are trying to keep costs low while they establish themselves,” says Rebecca Silver Slayter, an intern at The Walrus. “I would hope that should they need someone sometime down the road they’ll remember me, I’ll certainly express my eagerness to stay in any capacity when I finish here, but I’m not counting on anything.”

Silver Slayter considers herself lucky. The Walrus pays its interns a generous $2,000 a month, courtesy of support from the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation. While internships can be a path to a career in magazines, she also says they sometimes can be a roadblock because many entry-level positions are being replaced by unpaid internships.

Luba Krekhovetsky, managing editor at Canadian Business, says interns are a necessary part of the magazine, but doesn’t want anyone to get their hopes up. “We’re pretty clear with people at the beginning that their chances of getting a job here aren’t that good,” says Krekhovetsky. “We have a pretty stable staff here, so we try and be clear about that.” Canadian Business also has an internship program that pays reasonably well – $1,500 per month. Former Ryerson Review of Journalism editor Will Seccombe is happy to be interning there, and he isn’t disillusioned about his chances of getting a job at the end of the program – he knew the internship wasn’t his ticket in.

But not all interns end up jobless. Claire Cooper, head of research at Toronto Life magazine, managed to get a job there after her internship. Cooper started as a photo editor for a year and half and then took the job as head of research in November 2003. She, too, didn’t expect to land a job – she was lucky a position opened that she was able to fill. As head of research, Cooper hires and manages interns. Like her, most come in knowing that there isn’t necessarily a job at the end.

So is it worth it? Well, for certain people, internships – even unpaid – can be rewarding. Most interns, if interested in working at a magazine, come away feeling like they’ve been given some responsibility and real work experience.