Little known fact: About 13 years ago, when I screwed up a TV gig on RTE2 and found myself with little to do, Rick O’Shea at 2fm invited me into 2fm studios and let me figure out how to make a radio demo. I will always be grateful for it. I promised myself I would always give time to people who wanted to learn from me. I love radio. I love making it, and I get enormous satisfaction when it’s done well.
I genuinely want to share that experience with others, particularly the technical skills and in the content area of science. As someone who wants to see more science in the media, I think there are far too few opportunities for people to get the experience and confidence to shape their ideas into something commercial or at least fundable. This is why a few years ago, I invited people who were interested in learning about radio to come and sit in on a weekly meeting, pitch some ideas and see how the show was put together. I asked them to go an research their ideas and see if they could turn them into something. I gave them feedback, advice, encouragement. They went on to make their own BAI funded programmes. This is how I learned about a lot of things. I worked for free as a film reviewer before I became a published film reviewer. I worked for free in radio until I got paid. The interns were under no obligation to turn up every week, but they did because they loved it (or at least they say they did)*. Of the interns who pitched and developed their own ideas, all of them have gone on to paid employment in radio or science communications directly from their time with us.
Although I couldn’t pay them, I gave some of them laptops to keep so they could learn the skills of radio editing. I have often given up my time to help people who want to learn science communication. I have given up my spare time to visit them in their homes to teach and invited them into my home, sometimes for 3 hour stretches to explain how to edit like a professional. I have given countless tours of the station to young people who have shown the slightest interest in radio and arm-wrestled many a producer to get someone work experience on a programme they love. To anyone who wants to learn how to make high-quality radio, my door is always open. Genuinely, email the show.
I recently advertised again for an unpaid internship for Futureproof on Twitter on Newstalk 106-108. This was my own idea, not the producer’s or management’s. They have their own well-managed work experience programme that I know little about, but during it the students are in the station every day and as a weekly show that just doesn’t make any sense for us. It would be unfair to ask for funds that were never budgeted for, simply because I thought it was a good idea. It would be about 5-7 hours a week of people’s time on a voluntary basis.
The announcement went out on Twitter. Comments came in. The word exploitation was used. Someone on Twitter joked about the internship: “so exploitation is the answer? Seems fair. Media experience on a science show will be priceless.”
This, and following comments have made me feel both angry and hurt. This next part is the part where the cynical of you will smirk, screengrab and call me delusional: The idea of this internship is genuinely to help other people, not get help ourselves. This reads awfully, but feel I have to say it – we have really strong ratings, 6 national radio awards, a producer, presenter and a researcher for just one hour of radio. We really do not “need” someone who has absolutely no experience on the rotation.
We do want them here. We do love fresh ideas. Absolutely. And creativity has a value, absolutely. And spending time in a meeting talking about ideas has value, no question. I’m hoping to repay that value with my time invested in that person. I believe that has a value too.
Twitter isn’t the place for a long discussion about this and it can be unnecessarily mean-spirited. We have 8 people who have emailed enthusiastically for the position. However, I am writing this post to say that I am open to cancelling the announced internship, based on a compelling argument given the above information, quite simply because the word exploitation stung me to read and I would die to think that this is how any of the people who have come through Futureproof have felt or may feel in the future. It made me think that there is a chance that I lack self-awareness (“you think?!” is what my producer and wife are thinking right now…) and I believe it’s important to explore the idea you might be just wrong.
If you think this experience is better off not had by the applicants, if you think experience and mentorship can never be compensation for time, lay it out for me below and I’ll weigh it up whether or not to cancel the internship.