On December 18, 2014, I sat down with the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly and had the worst job interview of my life.
I met Paul Glastris for lunch at the Daily Grill, D.C.'s finest restaurant that also shares a building with the Monthly. Over a pair of the cheapest lunch specials on the menu, we never got into my qualifications (years of reporting experience, plus digital production and strategy), my greatest weakness (perfectionism?), how I dealt with adversity in the newsroom (mostly by quitting or getting laid off), or any other typical interview questions. Instead we talked at length about the state of the journalism industry and the magazine's place within it.
That's how, picking at French fries as the last lawyers and lobbyists disappeared from the dining room, we ended up discussing internships. I mentioned that I couldn't imagine working somewhere that didn't pay interns. Paul smiled and gave me a look like I had told him I couldn't imagine working somewhere that didn't own and operate a spaceship.
"First of all, I was an unpaid intern," he said. "Second of all, we give interns a better experience than almost any other place because we're so small. You can go spend $50,000 to get a master's degree, or you can spend zero and we'll take care of you."
We argued for the rest of the meal. This wasn't a good-natured policy debate, either, at least not on my end. It wasn't until I was walking back to my apartment, sliding into the adrenaline hangover from being Mad in Public, that I realized I had spent half the interview fighting with my would-be boss, raising my voice like we were a bickering couple. I got home, sent a halfhearted email thanking Paul for the "great conversation," and told my roommate I didn't even expect a rejection.
Teenagers' brains aren't fully developed; they have trouble making rational choices and recognizing the long-term implications of their actions. One dumb decision can have dire consequences that last well into adulthood.
When I was seventeen, for instance, I decided to go to journalism school.
So began an era of internships, none of which were adequately compensated and most of which were completely unpaid. One of them was set up by my university as a requirement for my undergraduate degree--meaning that I paid tuition for the privilege of working for a news outlet. (That outlet shut down in the middle of my internship, costing a dozen reporters their jobs and giving me more insight into the...