< On the Media's Unpaid Interns

Transcript

Friday, August 02, 2013

Alex Goldman started out as an OTM intern. Now he’s an OTM producer. I asked him to recount his epic journey to... supreme job satisfaction.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  I got a degree in journalism and then I needed to pay my rent, so I fell into a job that then consumed four years of my life.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Which was?

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Fixing computers.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Mm-hmm.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  And I just wasn't happy with it. So I decided to take a chance, knowing full well that I was moving onto a position that would pay nothing, at least in the beginning, and may not lead to anything.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  We have, generally, two interns at a time and their term lasts for three months. Your three-month term expired, and it was time for you to move on.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  And I didn't. [LAUGHS]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  And we brought in two more interns, as we do.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Mm-hmm.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So what did you do?

ALEX GOLDMAN:  I kind of made way, as best I could. I was working afternoons, Monday through Thursday, and then Friday through Sunday I was a mover.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  For another three months.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Two more interns came in, and then what happened?

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Former OTM producer Nazanin Rafsanjani went on maternity leave and being omnipresent, as I was, I was lucky enough to step in and fill her position. There were some staff changes and over the next four or five months I was still around, and actually getting paid, and then I ended up getting the job.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  A happy outcome.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  It was a happy outcome, and I was extremely grateful for the opportunity at the time. I mean, I was working six or seven days a week, but I don't ever remember coming in and feeling put out by the fact that I was doing it. I felt grateful for the opportunity to work on, you know, my dream radio show.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So eager to please that, all unasked, you would take my paper, maybe other producers’ papers, I don’t know, to the recycling bin - something that you absolutely forbid our current interns to do.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  I feel like there are two tasks that are too demeaning to make our interns do. I mean, aside from all the - all the obvious stuff, like picking up dry cleaning, but those two things are going out to get food for us and taking paper to the recycling bin. I feel like those are the two most non-nutritious tasks that we can ask people to do.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  And we never asked interns to do that, but you were doing it without being asked. What’s that about?

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Are you trying to back me into [LAUGHS] saying I’m a kiss-ass? I just felt like if I saw something that needed to be done, I – I did it. If you make yourself seem indispensable, people are less likely [LAUGHS] to dispense with you. It's a - tough thing to say out loud to someone, [LAUGHS] that part of what makes them valuable is their willingness to sort of kind of fill in on the cracks a little bit.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So, as you said, you don’t remember ever coming in during that period and feeling resentful about being here. The sense of resentment only came after you started drawing a regular paycheck?

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Strangely, I would say yes. And it's really on behalf of interns ‘cause, like I said, I didn't start feeling this way until I got paid. And part of that is just watching interns struggle in the way that I did, trying to find time to come into the station and get some value out of the job. We have two interns right now that come in and work, sometimes full days, and then immediately go afterward to do a full shift at a restaurant or wherever. And it's not that I think interns should suddenly become salaried, but I feel like enough to cover rent.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So we have two interns now –

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Mm-hmm.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  - Olivia and Molly. Molly and Olivia are coming to the end of their internships, right?

ALEX GOLDMAN:  Right.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So, given that there won't be any blowback, Molly, get the hell in here! [LAUGHS] I like the alacrity.  Molly Buckley, welcome to the show.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  Thank you, wow.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  How pissed off are you?

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  At being an intern? I don't really resent it, even though logically I think that I should, maybe. [LAUGHS]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Unless you see it as part of your education.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  Right.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So what is it that you’re learning from this?

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  Technical skills, absolutely. Learning Pro Tools, I can see myself [LAUGHS] using that forever. Also, a big part of what I'm learning is how to pitch and what makes for a good radio show. I came into this with no background at all in radio, so that's really cool, to see how you see things in sound.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  You don’t feel like it's not delivering for you.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  No, I really don't. And, and I think one comforting thing is that in New York City people are very familiar with this conundrum. So it’s not, I’m working two jobs, oh, you poor thing. It’s like, oh, we’ve all been there, we’ve all done that. I did this last summer. I worked for 150 straight days, or whatever; everyone has their story.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Alex, why don’t you come back here? Just leave it rolling. Alex, you’re going to take this spot. It’s only a two-mic room, so if I have questions, I'll yell them. You were saying from the control room that?

ALEX GOLDMAN:  One of the things that made the internship difficult for me, a thing that’s endemic to every internship. It’s this process of figuring out how to sort of ingratiate yourself with the people with whom you are doing the internship, without being really annoying. That's a fine tightrope to walk.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  That is very true, yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  And I was so intimidated by all the producers and the hosts when I first got here, I developed this weird metric in my head of like, I will interject into one out of every five conversations, in order to make my presence known, but not in a way where it feels like I'm trying to dominate every conversation and be a, a know-it-all.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  Yeah, try to figure out when people want your opinion, [LAUGHS] like when we have the editorial meetings, when I should say what I actually think and when I should say what I feel would be best in the [LAUGHS] situation to think. I get myself into a funny situation with, you know, online or things like that that I feel like I would know, maybe. Or how to appeal to a younger audience and stuff like that, there’s a line of maybe I’d be useful here and then on other things maybe I wouldn’t.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Part of what you have to learn is how to fit into an already existing structure and figure out how you can make the biggest contribution that you can, most efficiently.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  I think the difference is that when you're an unpaid intern no one’s gonna say, no, Molly you’re wrong, whereas to Alex they might say that. But to me they’re gonna be like, well, we don't tend to do these things because of so-and-so, and –

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  You get extra niceness because you're not paid.

  [ALEX LAUGHS]

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  But that's, a lot of the time, why I don't want to shoot out things that I think might easily be shut down, is because if I'm just testing it, I don't really believe in it fully, I don't want to throw it out there and then burden everybody else with having to be nice, when it's just a quick thing that I didn’t really care about.

ALEX GOLDMAN:  I think that’s exactly right.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  The first segment that I produced was on the We Are Watching You Act, and our Senior Producer Kat Rogers, on my first pitch, she said, I don’t think so, or something very quick like that, to that effect, and that was a good moment for me because I realized like, Oh I can just pitch and she’ll say no. She’ll just do it. And that was over, and then I fought for it, and we got it produced. [LAUGHS]

  [BROOKE LAUGHS]

ALEX GOLDMAN:  There, there are a lot of interns who will go the three months without ever producing. And it's just a question, I think, of assertiveness.

MOLLY BUCKLEY:  But that’s what I’m talking about. You do have to test the water, I think, to know where your voice is needed, because internships themselves vary. So coming from my unpaid internship [LAUGHS] last summer to this unpaid internship, there was a little bit of an adjustment process where you just have to learn the social culture. And I think being an outsider to that is probably the hardest part.

  [MUSIC UP & UNDER]  

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So, as you just heard Molly say, everybody has a story, and on Twitter we asked you for yours. We got quite a few, and most of them, from what I could tell, are surprisingly unbitter. Bradley Campbell lived in his car on a diet of day-old baked goods to complete his internship at public radio station WCAI in Cape Cod. He said it was like taking a vow of poverty to become a monk, and he still practices public radio daily.

On the other hand, during Michael Kohon’s internship at a sports radio station, the program director, the person who hired him, was fired two days before his first day on the job. Then half the local on-air staff quit, sometimes in the middle of a show. About half the sales staff quit. The station manager was fired. The station changed formats to news talk. On the bright side, he was offered a part-time position. Did he take it? Find out the end of his story, and a lot of others, on our website, onthemedia.org.

 [CLIP]:

STEPHEN COLBERT:  Now, of course, I have to protect my reputation as a newsman. I can’t be selling my name to the highest bidder.  

 [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

So instead, I'm selling my intern's name. Halls, get out here!

  [CHEERS/APPLAUSE]

So how does it feel to be America’s number-one cough drop, Halls?

  [LAUGHTER]

JAY THE INTERN:  My name is Jay.

  [LAUGHTER]

COLBERT:  Not anymore.

  [LAUGHTER]

JAY THE INTERN:  So my legal name is Halls Mentho-Lyptus?

COLBERT:  No, technically, it’s Halls Mentho-Lyptus with triple soothing action presents Jay the Intern.

  [LAUGHTER] [END CLIP]

 [MUSIC UP & UNDER]

BOB GARFIELD:  That's it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary. We had more help from Olivia Weitz and Molly Buckley. And the show was edited - by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson, who had a baby girl, Vivian, this week. Congratulations, Jen.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Congratulations. Send more pictures!

BOB GARFIELD:  Our engineers this week was Andrew Dunne and Ken Feldman. They gave birth to no one.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  [LAUGHS] Katya Rogers is our Senior Producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD:  And I’m Bob Garfield.

Guests:

Molly Buckley and Alex Goldman

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone