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Up until last year, Condé Nast ran one of the most sought-after internship programs in the industry. It fell apart when the publishing giant was slapped with a lawsuit from former New Yorker and W interns which claimed that they weren't fairly compensated for their work at the magazines. Three months later, Condé Nast announced that it was shutting down its entire internship program at the end of 2013. (Rival publishing company Hearst was also hit with a similar intern lawsuit, but ended up winning the case. Its unpaid internship program is still alive and well.)
Condé Nast's decision to ban interns was met with both tears and applause. "All of my peers in my major were suddenly posting these statuses where you would have thought it was the end of the world," one former intern told the New York Post when the news broke. Others were more optimistic: an alumni of Northwestern's Medill school of journalism encouraged students to cheer for its demise.
Almost a year after the internship program closed down, Condé Nast disclosed that the lawsuit with the former W and New Yorker interns had finally been settled for $5.8 million and the news spawned another round of thinkpieces over whether or not the internship kerfuffle was all worth the trouble. WWD's executive editor Bridget Foley labeled the lawsuits as "ridiculous" and "disingenuous," writing them off as "episodes in Millennial self-absorption and entitlement." Even when the forms to cash in on the class-action settlement finally arrived in former interns's inboxes, many were racked with doubt over whether or not they should take the money given that it might harm their chances at getting into Condé Nast in the future.
In the midst of all the angst, there were whispers that Condé Nast was working on another program, one less susceptible to multi-million-dollar lawsuits. At the same time that the company announced that it was settling the lawsuit, Condé Nast CEO Charles Townsend promised in a memo to employees that all was not lost. "The settlement will allow us to devote our time and resources towards developing meaningful, new opportunities to support up-and-coming talent," wrote Townsend.
Those new opportunities, in the form of editorial fellowships, follow a format that many new media companies have turned to in recent years. BuzzFeed's emerging writers fellowship is a full-time position that lasts for four months and comes with a $12,000 stipend. Google's 10-week-long summer journalism fellowship is open to undergraduate and graduate students and pays $8,500 plus a $1,000 travel budget. The Huffington Post, Gawker Media, and Mother Jones have all employed editorial fellows as well.
Wired, which is owned by Condé Nast, has been running its own editorial fellowship program for the past few years. In a current job posting, the magazine states that fellows can expect to be paid $12.25 per hour and will work 35 hours per week for the duration of the program, from July to December 2015. The fellows are treated as full-time staff members and, because of that, the posting discourages any college students from applying since the fellowships "are not appropriate for matriculated students."
"It doesn't seem like all brands are treating this the same way or getting the same resources to put behind it."
According to an anonymous source at Condé Nast, the company's editorial fellowships will be similar to what Wired already has in place, although they will vary depending on the magazine. "It doesn't seem like all brands are treating this the same way or getting the same resources to put behind it," the source told Racked. "I know people at other titles who hadn't even heard about the program until a few weeks ago. But all in all it's going to be a positive thing, especially for the smaller books." Condé Nast did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The quality of the experience should also improve with the new program. Pranav Dixit, a Wired editorial fellow in 2014, said that he was able to sit in on edit meetings and work closely with the magazine's editors, as well as get his name on the magazine's masthead for the duration of the fellowship. "The work was always substantial—writing, reporting, fact-checking, and a few administrative things like sending and receiving packages from the mailroom," Dixit told Racked over email. "There were definitely no coffee runs or any personal errands for editors." Wired also did not respond to requests for comment.
Another former Wired editorial fellow who requested to remain anonymous weighed out the pros and cons. "I'd say the big differences were the prestige and you do get the chance—pretty much guaranteed—to write for the front section of the magazine," the source told Racked.
But the job included plenty of stereotypical intern tasks as well. "Because they pay you, there's not that requirement that everything you do be educational, so I washed dishes, I mailed a ton of things, I really did a ton of the grunt work that the office needed done because we basically were office managers along with being editorial assistants." The source also noted that Wired had a strict policy regarding the number of hours fellows were allowed to work within the six-month period. If fellows worked over a certain number of hours, they were entitled to benefits, so Wired would let them go early if need be to circumvent the benefits requirement.
"If you call it a fellowship, in your head you can say it's not an internship."
Even with the drawbacks, Condé Nast's prestige guarantees that competition will be stiff for the fellowships. There will probably be fewer positions available, since each fellow will presumably cost the company more than interns once did. And because there's no college credit requirement any more, the pool of applicants will likely be enormous.
Aileen Gallagher, a journalism professor in the magazine department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, pointed out that many of her students continue to intern after graduation anyway, so the fellowships will at least give them the chance to be paid for their work. They'll also be able to build a career network, given that the fellowships will last much longer than a typical semester-long internship.
"I think that it will become a sought-after alternative," Gallagher told Racked. "Because if you call it a fellowship, in your head you can say it's not an internship. It's a fellowship, and that sounds more substantive. I think this will become a sought-after position for graduates who are looking to go into editorial, absolutely."
Whether or not the fellowships will be more likely to result in jobs at Condé Nast's magazines, though, remains to be seen. "I think a lot of people go into [the fellowships] thinking, ‘Oh I'll do this for six months and then they'll hire me,' but that's not exactly what happens," the former Wired fellow explained. "It's more like, I'm still a journalist and the people that I met there work at all these different places in the industry and I still see them regularly. Now, you have their name on your resume and that means a lot. So it furthered my career in a lot of ways even though it didn't mean that I ended up working at Wired."