[Updated (again)] A week’s work experience at the New Statesman or the local paper? That’ll be £1000

A couple of weeks ago I was at the lovely Olympics Ball – a fantastic event designed to raise money to support British athletes over the coming years.

There was a silent auction with many impressive lots – an experience here, a dinner there.

But it was lots 75, 76 and 77 that stood out , all with starting bids of £1000.

Each were for a week’s work experience at three different publications.

The first was a week at the New Statesman.

“You will have the chance to contribute your ideas and writing to their hugely popular website,” it promised, adding: “Travel not included.”

Lot 76, a week with FHM. The lucky bidder (or rather, the lucky bidder’s son or daughter, you’d presume) is able to shadow another member of staff and do research.

But it was lot 77 that was arguably the most depressing. £1000 for a week’s experience in sports journalism – with the Cambridge News. The paper will “endeavour to enable the budding writer to attend a live match with one of our journalists to watch how the paper covers sport as it happens”.

That live match would likely be at Cambridge United, a struggling non-league team (I’m allowed to say that – I’ve supported the desperate sods for more than 10 years).

It isn’t the first time opportunities like these have been offered in exchange for cash. But what strikes me here is the type of publications willing to take part.

“Work experience aids success,” wrote a New Statesman editorial back in April.

It made reference to an Ofsted survey of apprenticeships and placements that concluded “employers surveyed said that the number of students they could accommodate on placements was restricted”.

I asked the New Statesman about the placement and was assured that the winning bidder wouldn’t be replacing a non-paying placement position. It would be an additional role.

But cash-for-contacts skews an already elite-heavy industry even further, and it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Jobs openings in journalism are depressingly finite – and for each person who gets a nose-in thanks to the depth of their family’s pockets, a good, poorer journalist loses out.

If the New Statesman, FHM or Cambridge News wanted to help the British Olympic Association, they should have offered a gesture that wasn’t of harm to the industry.

(And if you’re a student journalist desperate to spend time with the press at Cambridge United, I’d suggest simply asking the club – they’re very accommodating.)

Update: Apparently the FHM placement went for £3,000.

Another update: Those kind (ahem) folks over at Media Guido are giving this the proper treatment. They quote Intern Aware as saying: “Most people can’t afford to work for free and even fewer people can afford to pay thousands of pounds for the privilege of interning. The New Statesman should be ashamed of operating a practice than puts opportunities out of the hands of hardworking and talented young people.”

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