The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has been approached by News Ltd’s new venture The Punch, offering multiple internships for its journalism students. The interns “will be formed into ‘flying squads’ to file quick reports on and responses to the news of the day.”

According to The Punch, the program will involve “…12 to 18 competent students; ideally they will be formed into pairs with each pair covering one day of the week. This means they will be doing the equivalent of a two-week internship spread out over a semester.”

The Punch has advised that students will file short print stories, photographs and voice grabs. They will also have the opportunity of contributing to blogs on The Punch or even starting their own blogs if they come up with a good proposition. These are unpaid internships but The Punch will cover expenses.”

Crikey understands that The Punch will post original content written by a small team of four and an outside team of around 60 regular contributors, along with aggregated content.

Back on April 4 Mumbrella reported on the new venture:

One of the potentially controversial aspects of The Punch is that many of those writing for it are said to potentially be student journalists, being asked to write for free, and edited by a small team of more senior executives. Mumbrella understands that journalism schools have already been sounded out. Again, a News Digital source today denied this.

… Meanwhile, Christopher Warren, chairman of journalists’ union the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, told Mumbrella that although he had not yet heard of the plans, it would be of concern if journalism students formed a major part of the project.

He said: “While there is always scope for everybody to write online, if you are holding something out to be a professional website, you need professionals writing for it who are being paid appropriately.

“There’s always the question of whether you’d be requiring students to do something they are not yet trained to do.”

The story then ran the following update:

Update: News has now conceded that “a few” journalism students will be invited to write. But it insists that this will be “most definitely not a lot or anything like a significant percentage of the posts”.

There were rumblings on Twitter yesterday about the offer to students, with one tweeter writing:

#crikey Fairfax outsources subbing to Pagemasters. News, meanwhile, outsourcing journalism to journo students with #thepunch

The editor of news.com.au David Higgins (@cowspanker) shot back:

@rachelhills you’re wrong RE yr punch comment

@rachelhills I’m not saying any more but talk to any op ed editor.

But Editor of The Punch David Penberthy told Crikey this morning, that the Mumbrella story “…made it sound like we were employing an army of toddlers to work in the journalistic equivalent of a salt mine”.

“What we’re looking for is to have access to students at any given time. It’s going to be like a work experience thing,” said Penberthy. “Papers such as The Tele and The SMH are constantly being approached by students, particularly by UTS.

“We’ve spoken to UTS about whether they could… ask a small group of students if they are interested in making themselves available to do occasional  pieces for our site.

“For example, it could be a vox pop on the day of the Dunlop Pacific sackings. We would ask them to provide 10 punchy little vox pops … bylined by them … they can add that to their cutting file.”

As to whether the byline will highlight the fact that the story was produced by an intern, Penberthy replied, “I don’t know if it makes a hell of a lot of difference. At the moment there’s plenty of other newspapers stories being produced at papers by second year journalism or second year law students.”

Penberthy doesn’t believe that news outlets relying on interns for content is a new trend either. “No, I think it’s an old fashioned thing. I know heaps of people who got their start doing volunteer shifts. This is no different to work experience at The Age, The Adelaide Advertiser, or The Cairns Post…”

A magazine editor in the UK recently told at a Women in Journalism conference that journalists may now be expected to complete up to two years of unpaid work before landing a job, according to Journalism.co.uk.

And a story this month in American Journalism Review reported: “…many news organizations have eliminated paid internships to save money. Others are depending on interns like never before, giving them assignments that once would have gone to more experienced staff reporters. Others, notably the Philadelphia Inquirer, are asking universities to foot the bill in exchange for reserved slots for their students.”

As for payment for students, “… we’re not paying politicians, or people who have their own blogs that they’re monetising — we’ll be driving traffic back to them instead,” says Penberthy.

“This is a long standing non-sinister practice. The model isn’t ‘let’s just get a whole bunch of kids to provide our content.’ It’s all done with the support and the authorisation of the university. There’s been a formal approach to them,” says Penberthy. “Essentially it is work experience, which is about as exciting as any other work experience program that any news outlet runs. We get inundated with requests and we just thought this could be a good way of making it meaningful for them. I get five to ten requests a week and it’s just a way of making it more streamlined…”

Penberthy also told Crikey that the arrangement with UTS, and possibly UWS “… won’t exclude other interns.”

Crikey approached UTS and Christopher Warren from the MEAA but they did not get back to us before deadline. UTS will respond in tomorrow’s Crikey.

CRIKEY: Crikey is involved with internship programs from UTS, The University of Melbourne and RMIT, among others. We also take interns who approach us independently.

Peter Fray

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