Have you ever wondered, “how much do book, magazine, and newspaper editors earn?” I always assumed that the answer was “enough to live comfortably” and, guess what, I was right! Earlier today Galley Cat published the results of an unscientific, but intriguing investigation into the salaries of editors at top publishing companies: “Using the anonymous job site Glassdoor, we found that the average salary for an editor in the New York area is $53,500 a year. This includes book editors and magazine and newspaper editors.”

Cool! But all this talk about money and publishing made me wonder, “What about the people at the bottom? What about the interns? How much do they make?” There’s good news and bad news here. From limited research, it appears that a number of publishing houses, including the Penguin Group, MacMillan Group, and Verso do the right, lawful thing and pay their interns. That’s the good news. However, when it comes to journalism, I’m inclined to agree with Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, who argued in a recent appearance on the Bat Segundo Show that:

“The publishing industry is one of the worst. It’s one of the worst offenders. …. All kinds of people who see themselves as championing workers’ rights or who see themselves as liberal completely ignore this issue. Or they figure that all these interns are rich kids. So they can afford it. “It’s not a big deal if we don’t pay them.” Well, that’s an interesting statement. But, first of all, I would uphold the right of everybody to be paid for labor no matter what their background. And so I think to introduce a double standard is actually a dangerous idea. Even though people informally air that kind of opinion all the time. But, second of all, if indeed they are kids born with a silver spoon in their mouth, the question is: Why are those your interns? Well, because they’re the only ones who can afford to work for the non-pay that you’re offering. There probably are some smaller organizations getting off the ground that would have trouble surviving if they didn’t have interns. But in most cases, whether it’s a small liberal magazine in Brooklyn or a startup in the Midwest, whatever it is, they use interns to extend what they can do. To build up their capacity. To try and do more. They do it because they can. Because it’s there. And they haven’t questioned it. And one thing I’m hoping to do with the book is to politicize it such that anybody who wants to get up on soapboxes and say, “This or that is liberal. We should fight for workers. Protect workers and social mobility and social justice and talk about these kind of things,” will also look at their own workplace practices. But this is a much larger issue of people practicing what they preach, right?”

I know I’ve been effectively shutout from a number of magazine internships because I can’t afford an unpaid internship or am not eligible for a “credit only” position. With this in mind, I decided to compare the salaries of editors and “credit-only” or unpaid interns.

Here is a graph comparing editors’ salaries to credit-only/unpaid interns’ salaries:

And here is a graph breaking down the “rewards” of the unpaid internship:

Unpaid internships are unethical, discriminatory, and more often than not, illegal.


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