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Investigating The Dark Side Of The Internship Economy

ProPublica is crowdsourcing funds to hire their own intern, and then set their new employee on a quest to expose the exploitation of free young labor in America.

Internships are supposed to be about gaining experience and getting your foot in the door. But too often these days the arrangement is simply exploitative: a way for organizations to fill in odd jobs on the cheap. Ross Perlin wrote about the intern underclass in 2011, in the excellent Intern Nation. Now ProPublica, the investigative journalism shop, wants to continue the work (and apply its own chops). It’s looking for its own intern, and needs $22,000. Because it actually wants to pay whoever it hires.

As reporters Blair Hickman and Jeremy Merrill describe in the video here, the plan is to recruit someone for 16 weeks, send them around the country, and produce a microsite full of good stories, and data. The person will get a respectable $700 a week, plus a travel budget.

There are actually rules against exploiting interns—though you wouldn’t know it. One part of the Fair Labor Standards Act says employers can’t benefit from internships more than interns. But the rules are poorly enforced, according to Hickman and Merrill.

Hopefully, the investigation will push the issue up the agenda. Aside from visiting the Kickstarter page and donating, you can also submit your own intern stories here. You don’t have to leave a name.