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Condé Nast Ends Intern Program, Raising Question: Are Internships About the Money?

With the demise of Condé Nast’s unpaid internship program, we wonder whether the importance of money has eclipsed the value of experience.
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Publishing giant Condé Nast has ended its famous internship program in a move that begs the question: Has the importance of money eclipsed the value of experience?

Condé Nast's decision to discontinue its program next year comes as the company faces a class-action lawsuit over its intern pay practices. Earlier this year, two former interns filed a lawsuit claiming the publisher failed to pay them minimum wage. Lauren Ballinger, who worked as an intern at W Magazine in 2009, and Matthew Leib, who interned at The New Yorker in 2009 and 2010, say they were paid less than $1 per hour

But in focusing on intern pay, has the value of experience fallen to the wayside? Internships provide a chance to work learn about your field, gain hands-on experience and network with established professionals and business leaders. When applying for jobs, having connections and experience on your resume can be a game changer, especially in a struggling job market. For students interested in journalism, a Condé Nast internship, with the lessons and connections it yields, could be priceless.

Related: How to Make the Most of a Summer Internship as an Aspiring Entrepreneur

Companies that offer unpaid internships are often criticized for excluding students who cannot afford to work for free. Surprisingly, research shows that individuals from low-income families are more likely to work at unpaid internships than their higher-income peers. Still, 65 percent of students rely on financial assistance from parents during their internships, and 61 percent of unpaid interns need to work second jobs.

Condé Nast is not the first organization to struggle with the decision to pay interns. The website Who Pays Interns? offers an extensive list how other magazines and websites solved the puzzle. Many stick with the unpaid model, such as  Harper’s Magazine, Salon and Hearst. Others have revamped their internship programs into “fellowships,” which tend to pay around minimum wage, including  Gawker  and the Huffington Post. All organizations emphasize the value of “ experience and exposure,” regardless of the amount the company is willing to pay.

Related: The Case for Paying Interns (Infographic)