The Inside Agenda Blog

Unpaid Internships

by Sandra Gionas Wednesday November 6, 2013

An upcoming episode of The Agenda will deal with the controversy over unpaid internships. In advance of that program, producer Sandra Gionas writes about The Agenda's internship program and invites you to share your experiences with internships. 

I first came to TVO as an intern in September of 1994. I came on my own and not part of academic placement, answering an ad on the bulletin board at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, where I was in my final year. My internship spanned the entire inaugural season of Studio 2, where I provided research for its documentary unit. It was an unpaid internship, but it was an awesome experience and I spent far too much time at TVO rather than in the classroom, where I should have been. It resulted in my getting a job here a year later.

Agenda producer Sandra Gionas (circled), as part of the Studio 2 team following her internship. 

And I’m still at TVO today. I now supervise the interns at The Agenda with Steve Paikin. Most of them come to us from the various journalism schools in Ontario, with the six weeks they spend here being assessed as part of their degree requirements. We do not pay our interns, but we do take the educational component of the placement seriously.

It’s primarily a research internship but we do expose our interns to our daily production, producing skills, web journalism, social media journalism and try to get them familiar with technical aspects of production as well. I workshop basic skills such as pitching stories with the interns, because that will be their bread and butter once they finish school and either have a job or are working as freelancers. Our interns get to pitch their ideas, and sometimes work on these ideas once they’ve been approved to air. Our interns also greet our guests and make sure all paperwork is signed. I’ve seen many a picture with our interns smiling alongside premiers, former premiers, former prime ministers, astronauts and other famous folks. Best of all, our interns get experience working on a real daily production and that hands-on experience is immeasurable, in my honest opinion.


A recent Agenda episode produced with the assitance of Agenda intern Alice Tjiu.

Internships are the norm at most media companies. But they’ve been in the news lately because of some high-profile lawsuits and complaints with labour boards, both here in Canada and in the United States. Earlier this year, an intern filed a federal labour complaint against Mobility, because she felt her business management internship was essentially her performing entry-level work for no pay, and that it would not lead to any meaningful experience or to a job offer.

Which is the main motivation, I would think, for entering an unpaid or even paid internship. One hopes it can lead to a potential job and for us on the employer side, we get an extended audition of the young talent out there. Of the thirteen producers and associate producers currently working here at The Agenda, five are from our intern program. We’re really proud of that, and we ended up hiring these people because we were sure they were a good fit and had the skills necessary to jump right in.

Not all our interns have been the best fit but I can honestly say, each one has at least walked away with added knowledge. But I know not all internships end this way.

And so we want to hear from you. What is the worst, or even best internship you have had, and what made it that way? Were the employers upfront about the job responsibilities? Were you asked to do coffee runs?

We would love to hear your stories and perhaps share some of them on air (with your permission ) next week when we devote a full hour to internships. On Wednesday, November 13th, we have Intern Nation author Ross Perlin joining us, along with a panel of interns. We’ll discuss the state of internships today and we would love to hear from you.