For Lauren Indvik, a business editor and soon-to-be co-editor in chief at Fashionista, the 2008 internship at Vogue was worth every sacrifice.
The 15 pounds frantically lost in the weeks before the interview. The predawn drive from New Hampshire to Times Square. The bed shared with a fellow penny-pinching friend near Pennsylvania Station, and the morning and evening walks — in heels — because she could not afford subway fare. “It’s so valuable,” she said.
So it was with a measure of shock and dismay that Ms. Indvik greeted the news on Wednesday that Condé Nast was closing down its internship program. A spokeswoman for the company, whose publications include The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue, confirmed that the program would end, but said current interns would not be affected.
The move, first announced in Women’s Wear Daily, comes about four months after two formers interns sued Condé Nast, claiming they had been paid below minimum wage for the summer jobs at W Magazine and The New Yorker. The case, still pending, is one of several recent lawsuits filed by low-paid and unpaid interns in the media field.
Hearst Magazines was sued by a former Harper’s Bazaar intern last year, and this past spring a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures broke laws for not paying two interns who worked on “Black Swan.”
Yet several former and current Condé Nast interns said sacrificing the internship program seemed too extreme a response, not least because it meant that hundreds of fledgling and prospective journalists would be denied an invaluable launching pad.
“I’m disappointed on behalf of all future interns as well,” said Rosana Lai, 21, a student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University who is currently an intern at Glamour. “We’re no longer going to have that foot in the door.”
Also lost would be the lessons learned from working at the magazines, and brushing elbows with the magazine world’s most luminous names. Doing research for writers like George Packer, Jane Kramer and Philip Gourevitch. Spotting Graydon Carter or Anna Wintour in the cafeteria. And, for interns at the fashion magazines, fixating endlessly on what to wear. “I have never been better groomed in my life,” Ms. Indvik, 26, said. “I bought designer clothes off eBay and blow dried my hair and steamed my clothes every day.”
The Condé Nast internships also drew scions of the rich and famous, including a daughter of Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive of CBS, and a daughter of Arianna Huffington. Not to mention those reality TV darlings Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port, who were interns at Teen Vogue.
For those born of more modest means, the goings were a bit rougher. Ms. Indvik said without her parents’ financial help, she “absolutely” could not have done the internship, which lasted four months and was initially unpaid, but by the end paid a stipend — of $12 a day.
Ms. Lai, for her part, said she believed that Condé Nast should at least be able to pay its interns minimum wage. She is earning school credit for her two-and-a-half-month internship, but the only payment she is getting is a $1,200 stipend from Medill.
Still, not all former Condé Nast interns fully agreed with the premise of the lawsuit. Stephanie Cain, an editor at an e-commerce start-up who interned in 2008 at Brides magazine, another Condé Nast publication, said she had never expected to get paid for journalism internships. Besides, she viewed the Brides internship, which continues to open doors, as akin to auditing a class, “And you don’t expect to be paid for auditing a class,” she said.
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Another former intern, Michael Humphrey, a freelance writer and a Ph.D. candidate at Colorado State University, said, “Having The New Yorker on your résumé does amazing things for you.” While he would not have minded more pay — he earned $500 for a semester’s work — he said the real value came in the experience and relationships built. “It helped verify that I was serious about the business,” he said.
Yet Andrew Nusca, an editor at CBS Interactive who interned in 2007 at Men’s Vogue, now closed, said he could see both sides. On the one hand, overseeing interns requires extra work. On the other, working for next to nothing seemed especially cruel in the country’s most expensive city.
He worked his tail off, he said, “and I certainly did not make nearly as much money as I really needed to live in New York.”