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Ear to the Ground

Perpetuating Modern Day Slavery

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Posted on Aug 1, 2012
Photo by Les Chatfield (CC-BY)

Soliciting a modern day slave to write about modern day slaves? Great concept for an improv comedy sketch. Although it might seem sad, and funny, it’s exactly what an advertiser on a media job board has done.

Writing on the inexorable progression of poverty during this Great Recession, I’ve gotten a lot of experience. So when Journalismjobs.com ran a call for a writer on poverty issues, I jumped on it. Getting in on an untitled but sexy-sounding new magazine and documentary film production would be a welcome shot in the arm, I thought. No call for radical skepticism here. After all, this wasn’t Craigslist, where a welter of hopeless startups recruit the naive and desperate and which ought to medal alongside Bain Capital in the depress-our-wages Olympics.

Throwing my hat in the ring earned this response from an editor:

“Thank you so much for your interest in contributing to our magazine. We would be interested in working with you. Please let us know if you would be available to contribute a piece to our September issue.” To which I fired off the all important hack query, “how many words for how much?”

“Our magazine is the newest project from GTC Films and the Modern Day Slaves Foundation,” she replied, “a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking both within the United States and abroad. Since this will be our first issue and we are still in the process of grant writing, we will not be able to provide writers with the funds for travel or any monetary compensation.”

I hit up the Journalismjobs editor, curious about its job ad not being a job (may be time to retitle the site I offered), and it’s since been redacted; the slave writing gig contributing to the Modern Day Slaves Foundation is now explicitly cited as an “unpaid internship.”

America has a tradition of interning—I’m proud my teenage son just landed one with an L.A. County elected official—and internships for the young and inexperienced can lead to things. The role, however, is certainly being abused by employers, and author Ross Perlin explores this in his book “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.” But the hands-down winner for recession-inspired chutzpah is this Modern Day Slaves Foundation. I’m sure the founders will find suckers and although my would-be masters have no intention of compensating them, I managed to earn a check out of this: Truthdig pays writers for their efforts.

—Posted by Howie Stier.

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