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Emily Candy does not mince words.

 

“The internships that we have now are all over the place,” says Rogers Publishing’s peppy HR manager with unexpected frankness. “We have people who are really getting some good mentorship from senior editors, and then we have people who are just in the Flare fashion closet helping out with some merchandising or stuff like that.”

Though Candy insists that all interns receive a good experience, the company is introducing  the M-School (the “M” stands for magazine), a full-time, paid, four-month internship program that it says is designed to provide rigorous, formalized training for those looking to break into the industry. Aside from working with Rogers Publishing staff in different sectors—including editorial, marketing, and design—the 10 carefully selected interns will attend mandatory seminars that count toward a certificate of completion.

But while the program may appear to be a step up from the usual intern experience, it still fails to fairly compensate interns for their labour, and leaves Rogers’ less educational, unpaid internships unexamined and unchanged.

The M-School, which launches in May, was largely inspired by an internship program at Chatelaine. The brainchild of the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jane Francisco, and assistant editor Lora Grady, the Career Institute at Chatelaine (which Rogers is shutting down after its current interns finish up) took on paid interns for six months, and provided them with a two-day magazine boot camp, workshops, seminars, and one-on-one mentorship.

“They were really good ideas and they were exactly what we wanted to do,” Candy explains. “But we didn’t want it to be focused just on editorial. We wanted to extend to other areas of the business.”

M-School interns will be placed in different departments at a variety of titles, from consumer magazines likeChatelaine to lesser-known trade publications like Benefits Canada. (The “legacy” internships at Maclean’sand Canadian Business will be excluded from the program.) Though they’ll focus on the area of their preference, the interns will be exposed to other parts of the industry through seminars, which will focus on things like choosing a good cover, pitching ideas, using multimedia, and getting to know magazine readers.

Though the final amount has yet to be decided, Candy says interns will probably be paid a monthly honorarium of about $1,000. While this may seem lucrative compared to the many Rogers internships that provide no compensation, this is still considerably less than minimum wage in Ontario.

“People can’t afford to live and work in Toronto if they’re only getting paid $1,000 a month,” says Toronto-based lawyer Andrew Langille, who also blogs about youth employment issues. “It’s less of a meritocracy and more choosing from a pool of applicants from privilege.”

Langille says, “A centrally managed program is better insofar as there’s a greater, better look at what’s happening.” But he questions whether M-School internships—$1,000 honorarium or not—would be considered legal under the Employment Standards Act, because, based on the duties listed on its website, the M-School would require that participants take on jobs that are usually performed by paid employees. (An editorial internship, for example, would include fact-checking, writing web content, and contributing ideas to the magazine line-up.) According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, an employer can only deny an intern the usual employee rights, including minimum wage, if “[the] employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.”

It’s doubtful that paying interns would be a financial burden at Rogers. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Rogers Media, of which Rogers Publishing is an arm, made $75 million in adjusted operating profit (its parent company, Rogers Communications, netted $455 million). Hiring 10 interns at minimum wage for the summer (about $1,640 a month each, for four months) would require less than one percent of that.

By choosing not to pay its interns in spite of its hefty profits, Langille believes Rogers is showing a lack of appreciation for the labour they provide, and a misunderstanding of what internships are really for.

“It’s foolish to view interns as a crew of disposable labour or cheap labour,” Langille says. “The best practice is to view interns as potential full-time employees and to use internships to test the waters and see if the intern is a good fit for the culture of the company.”

Candidates will have to work hard if they want that opportunity at the M-School. Along with submitting a résumé, applicants need to write a short essay detailing why they want to be a part of the program and what they have to offer. If they make the shortlist, they’ll have to go through multiple rounds of interviews and complete an assignment related to the department they hope to join. Then, maybe, they’ll get the position.. “It would really be like a pretty rigorous job screening process,” says Candy.

But for each of the 10 interns getting the holistic training experience, Rogers has a few other interns whose experiences are nowhere near as closely monitored. (Full disclosure: I interned at two Rogers magazines.) Candy admits that HR isn’t always aware of where or when these interns are working, and doesn’t receive feedback from anyone about their learning experience. (Chatelaine’s Career Institute was an exception, as the organizers did collect regular feedback from participants.)

Robin Green (not his real name) , a former editorial intern at one of Rogers’ most popular consumer magazines, remembers wishing that his experience had been more focused on education and training. Though he worked two to three days a week, he always felt as though he was “clocking in and out instead of learning, networking, and becoming part of a team.” “I feel like I was taken for granted. The interns are a key part of the production cycle, but I felt like I was just a cog,” he says.

When he started, he was expecting to receive one-on-one mentoring from editors, and to learn about the editing and writing process at magazines. Instead, he spent most of his time fact-checking, organizing freelancer contracts, mailing packages, and emailing public relations associates. His editors acted as though they couldn’t be bothered to assign him work, let alone share their experiences as young journalists, and his supervisor wasn’t even at the office to debrief him on his last day.

“Because it was unpaid, I really wanted more. I wanted it to be a curriculum for me instead of me walking in, begging for something to do and feeling awkward,” says Green, who worked full-time hours to support himself during his internship. “If I’m working for free, I want to learn something.”

Candy is doubtful that Rogers will go out of its way to make sure that the rest of its interns, most of whom are unpaid, get the same comprehensive experience as their incoming M-School interns. At most, they’ll be able to attend the seminars.

“Our business relies heavily on interns,” she says. “I think it’s a two-way street. Some of the schools and some of the programs rely on us to provide internships and, in turn, we’ve come to start relying a little bit on the amazing skills that we get from our interns to help us with our business.”

In spite of his own negative experience, Green is interested in applying for the M-School. He’s excited about the amount of structure and the prospect of a paycheque, even if it doesn’t cover his cost of living. One thousand dollars is a lot when you’re used to working for free.

“Working in a so-called rock star industry like media? I’ll take it,” he says. “I’d take that in a second.”

Photo by SimonP