The True Cost of Unpaid Interns

summer unpaid intern

Unpaid interns are disrupting the media – and not in a good way.

Summer interns everywhere should be watching their backs after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed an unpaid intern for the inaccurate and unauthorized confirmation to media of the names of the crew members of an Asiana Airlines jet that crashed in San Francisco on July 6. When the TV-news station, KTVU in Oakland, read the names on-air and posted them in an on-screen graphic the news report became one of the more widely snickered-about TV-news screw-ups in years.

Both the NTSB and KTVU issued apologies and the unnamed intern, who now has one hell of a gap in his resume, was fired.

Ironically, this incident occurred just as a rash of unpaid intern vs. employer lawsuits have hit the court system.

The legal dilemma

It all started June 11, when a federal district court judge in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures should have compensated two unpaid interns for their work on the 2010 movie Black Swan. Two days later a former intern for W Magazine and another for The New Yorker filed lawsuits against publisher Condê Nast claiming they were paid less than $1 an hour. And on June 17, a former Atlantic Records intern filed a lawsuit against Warner Music Group citing unpaid wages for office work performed from October 2007 to May 2008.

unpaid interns coffee

The management risk

As media budget cuts continue at a seemingly unsustainable rate, the trend of hiring low- or un-paid interns is on the rise. Publishing Executive reported that it is not uncommon for editors to be told to hire more unpaid interns to cut costs (Magazine Editor Confesses: “Management Tells us to Hire Unpaid Interns”).

Outside of the obvious downsides of replacing seasoned reporters with inexperienced and low-paid recent graduates – poor, inaccurate reporting, tinged with bitterness and Top Ramen – it creates a whole slew of potential issues regarding intern management.

Ultimately, that poor (literally and figuratively) unpaid NTSB intern didn’t deserve full blame for the embarrassing Asiana Airlines incident. The manager, whom in exchange for free labor was responsible for job training and supervision, was equally at fault. Plus, now that NTSB took the “my intern did it!” excuse, media outlets thinking they are getting a great deal with free or low-paid interns this summer might consider the true cost of their free labor. In the end, I guess you really do get what you pay for.

Unleashing My Inner Talent Scout

country music

Those who know me well have likely heard about my pipedream to live in Nashville and work in the country music business. This stems from my deep love of music that took old when my mom brought home a Reba McEntire greatest hits album when I was 8 years old. Since that day I have made it my business to know and love music – especially country.

Unfortunately I don’t currently know how I can make a move to Nashville a reality, but in the meantime I have had the awesome opportunity to book and promote some local acts at my parents’ guest ranch in Southern Oregon. On Saturday we welcomed Cloverdayle to the resort and had an absolutely incredible time. If you live in the Northwest and love country music, make it a point to see them perform this summer, because this fall they move to Nashville and there’s no telling when they’ll be back. I have gotten a total rush out of identifying great talent in the region, booking them, leveraging some good ol’ PR skills to promote the show and then getting to partake in the fun on event night.

For hard-working ranching families who live in that part of the state, taking a break from reality and enjoying a great meal followed by a fun performance is a special way to spend a summer evening. And for me, getting to meet these up-and-coming artists and pick their brains about Nashville and any inside scoop they can share about business allows me a brief window into this world I’ve watched from afar for so many years. So while I’m not working on Music Row, this is a pretty fun next-best-thing. Thanks again to Chad and Rachel Hamar for the amazing performance and for my parents for being willing to put on these annual concert series, and indulge my inner music producer.

Gregory Crewdson’s Surreal Photography

Brief Encounters tells the story of  this “theatrical” photography.

Working as a designer involves a constant search for new inspiration and unique examples of self-expression. A few evenings ago, amid an underwhelming selection of questionable films on Netflix streaming, I came across a truly inspiring documentary. Brief Encounters follows Gregory Crewdson‘s 10-year odyssey creating a series of surreal, mind-blowingly detailed photographs of small-town American life.

With all the structure and planning afforded to a feature film, Crewdson’s work creates a profound tension between beauty and anxiety. His pieces have sold for as much as $150,000 for a single photograph. A single image can take up to two years to complete and involve hundreds of people in the process.

“My pictures are about everyday life combined with theatrical effect. I want them to feel outside of time, to take something routine and make it irrational. I’m always looking for a small moment that is a revelation.” —Gregory Crewdson

The Value of the Story

Value of the Story

We live in a world where new information is constantly at our fingertips. We’ve been told that this has affected our attention spans, our memorization skills, our ability to concentrate. When scanning the web, we may balk at a large block of text, bookmarking and moving on to bigger headlines, something we can skim. There’s always the option to browse for something more immediate, to click the sidebar, or refresh the feed. The web has changed the way information is shared, and it’s changed the way stories are told. We’ve learned that web content needs to be brief and to the point to accommodate the new reader. Every word counts. Good design matters.

Does this mean that people aren’t really reading anymore? That storytelling doesn’t have value? Thanks to Significant Objects, we can rest assured that (for now) people still understand the value of the story. An experiment exploring the effect of narrative on subjective value, the Significant Objects project used writers, garage sale objects and eBay to test the value of storytelling. Over 200 participating writers were paired with an object purchased for about $1.25. Each writer wrote a short story to be used in place of the object’s description and the object was put up for bid on eBay. So far, object sales have brought in more than $8,000. How’s that for objective proof of the value of the story?

The End of the Print Era: Where Do We Go from Here?

shake up at the Oregonian

Last week’s shake up at The Oregonian

In 2013, it is no surprise to see a publication move away from print to focus more heavily on online content, but it still stings each time I see it happen. Last week’s shake up at The Oregonian is a good reminder of the ever evolving ways we receive news and as a PR professional, how it’s even more important to define the story we are telling.

For anyone who may not be following the recent news (or are living under a rock), the Oregonian announced it will scale back its printed paper delivery service to just a few days a week and cut more than 100 of the 650 jobs at the publication. While this is a shock to the system, it is a good opportunity for us to step back and reevaluate how we be innovative in this new landscape.

shake up at the Oregonian

The Oregonian Building, which houses the newspaper.

A wake-up call for Oregon?

There’s no question that getting cover in print newspapers is a lot harder than it used to be. With fewer reporters, most don’t even cover a single beat anymore. Also, most newspapers have a much smaller news hole – even when pitching a decent story to a reporter, sometimes there just isn’t enough room. The latest cuts out of the Oregonian is a wake-up call. As the media continues to evolve, I think the PR industry has a good opportunity to be the one innovating and steering the conversation with reporters. Whether this comes in the form of selecting just a few reporters to build strong relationships with, tapping into social media to showcase your news or going down the avenue of contributing articles, it is our job to be influential. If content is king, then PR is queen. What do you do to stay relevant in your relationships with the media?

Is That What You Call an Apology, Paula Deen?


Ever since she was a no-show on TODAY last Friday I’ve been eagerly awaiting Paula Deen’s interview with Matt Lauer that was rescheduled for this morning.  First of all, what was she thinking not honoring her commitment to be on the program last week, immediately following revelations that she has used racial slurs?  Instead of going on live TV with an apology, Paula Deen explained that she was “exhausted and disturbed,” an excuse that is weak at best given the situation. Where was her PR counsel last week?  If they were there, did they do all they could to get her to make the interview? Did she reject their counsel? Or was it that they weren’t there (seems highly unlikely), and if so why not?


Blame game pity party

Regardless, we fast forward to today and the interview that seemed more like a blame game pity party than an actual apology.  As the experts have already said, the rambling 13-minute long segment was “bizarre.”  Given her celebrity status Deen had the opportunity to do what most of us would never – go on national television and make things right.  Take responsibility.  Own up to her mistakes.  Set a clear standard and precedent for the future.  Come across as trustworthy, remorseful and understanding.  Instead, she appeared on the defensive, commenting on how those who know her can’t believe how she’s being treated and what’s being said about her.  She went on a long rant about hearing “kids” in kitchens talk in a way that is just “distressing.”  When Lauer asked if she had engaged in similar dialogue she said absolutely not.  Maybe she’s telling the truth.  For some reason she didn’t come across as fully believable.

What next?

As a communications advisor I would be most nervous about her statement that she only used the most offensive racial slur one time while being robbed.  In today’s digital age so much is caught on tape – not to mention she’s a TV personality who is constantly around cameras and microphones that are on.  If additional instances of her using racial slurs come to light, she is not only a racist but a liar. And that’s not an easy mess to clean up.

And finally, I would have to believe that she was working from a set of talking points for today’s interview, and I can’t imagine that throwing in a slang phrase as her parting words was in the recommended messaging.  “I is what I is, and I’m not changing.” Hmm…no, Paula, I’m sure you’re not.

Portland’s 2013 Fast Growing Companies

2013 Fastest Growing Companies

Last Thursday I attended the 2013 Fastest Growing Companies event put on by the Portland Business Journal and I must say it was a great evening, except for the food. Why all the deep-fried delicacies?

Of all the Business Journal events, this one is hands down my favorite.  It’s always a fun, party-like atmosphere where people feel relaxed and ready to recognize some of the most exciting companies in Portland. It was great being able to celebrate two clients that made the list – DataSafe and ProKarma. Congratulations!

I also want to send a shout out to my friends at Kinesis and The Good for staking their claim in the Top 100. Beyond the companies I know, I realize there are many more that I don’t and am left to speculate about what makes them tick. Don’t we all want to know the secret behind the Ruby Receptionists mojo? Or how about the swankiness that Securus Payments brought to the party? I appreciated that they had the NBA Finals Game 7 playing on an iPad at one of their tables. Making the list is no small feat – especially in a year like this past one when the economy started heading in the right direction and business growth was on the rise. Congrats to all of the 2013 Fastest Growing Companies and here’s to another great year!

We’re Blogging!

we're blogging

Welcome to the A.wordsmith blog!

After more than four years in business we are taking the leap and starting a blog. As with any blog, the goal is to keep in better touch with all of you in a way that informs, insights and hopefully inspires new thinking on a variety of topics. Since we are communicators we’ll be weighing in on issues facing the public relations and marketing industries as well as sharing key learnings, successes, and our take on current news and trends. You’ll be hearing from a variety of A.wordsmith team members – each with different backgrounds and areas of interest and expertise. So without further adieu, let’s get this thing started!