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SalaryTKer Talks, Laughs (Sort Of) At Unpaid Media Jobs

Posted by: Jon Fine on July 1, 2009

Yesterday I got the below email:

It”s our pleasure to introduce you to SalaryTK: The job board for journalists who don’t want to get paid.
Editors and publishers have quickly learned that using free labor is the best practice for adapting to a volatile media landscape …
But SalaryTK is not just a job board. We’re a consultancy working with media companies looking to snag top talent in the ever-growing unpaid sector of the media workforce. The free labor we’ll help you attract will more than pay for our services.
So, if you’re a journalist looking for unpaid work, an editor who needs free copy or a publisher trying to get an edge in the increasingly competitive market of unpaid labor, visit SalaryTK… because great journalism is priceless.

It was the kind of day where I couldn’t tell how serious all this was, so I emailed back. This led to an email exchange and phone call with a person involved with the site.

On the phone, a charming-sounding woman—-who works in media-- insisted she not be identified but suggested she could be called the nom du Web of “Sally.” (Heh.)

Is it a joke? Sure, sort of. The Web site aggregates all manner of unpaid jobs—read “internships”—across the media job. Among the most recent jobs listed on the site come from the Huffington Post—the now-famous internship that was auctioned off—and Vogue. It sort of works as a directory for many internships that are out there, although the SalaryTKers have stripped all contact data out from the posts, "Sally" says, over concerns that contact data would lead to “employer” inboxes jammed with angry messages.

As for the email’s claim that SalaryTK will help meida companies snag top talent free, well, a SalaryTKer (the SalaryTKer?) said in an email “it’s true we’re not consultants. At least until someone wants us to be.”

The site came about, "Sally" said, “through a lot of frustration, going around on job boards looking for paying jobs that didn’t exist.” One watershed moment came from an ad (unfortunately not preserved on the site) that advertised an offer that, per Sally’s recollection, asked applicants to work for free with the inducement of getting “bylines for a reputable name while having their work exposed to millions.”

Are there a lot more ads like that out there now? Hard for me to tell. The media world has always leaned somewhat on the work of unpaid interns. (During this summer—indeed during all summers--there are a number of college-age interns at BusinessWeek, but all of them receive salaries. And while I'm disclosing, so long as we're talking about job boards I should point out that my wife is the founder of mediabistro.) Whenever there’s a downturn in media and media employment, the abundance of internships causes more irritation and grumbling than when the job markets are robust. In pre-Web recessions, there wasn’t an easy way to surface such irritation. Today, there is.

But this doesn’t get to the root questions of whether there’s anything wrong with relying on unpaid internships, or whether there’ many more of them these days.

Anyone got answers, or guesses?

Reader Comments


July 1, 2009 11:38 PM

Unpaid and underpaid internships are far more common in radio and TV, so I'm not so sure why this is news other than it's less likely to have affected writers in the past. I held several unpaid or minimum wage cameraman and researcher positions during my college years and they seemed pretty normal to me.

Lisa Romeo

July 3, 2009 11:19 AM

True internships, designed and implemented as meaningful learning experiences for students or those new to an industry, are one thing. A good thing.
But far too many media enterprises -- both print and online -- are asking, even expecting, professional writers to work for free these days.
That's not a good thing at all.

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