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Jean Folkerts, dean of the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, bemoans The Philadelphia Inquirer’s decision to dissolve its paid internship program and its request that J-schools fund them instead:

Ideally, all student interns should be paid by news organizations.  Students have valuable skills, they work hard, and news organizations get the benefit of their labor.  But the reality is that news organizations increasingly ask them to work for free.  Even so, students want to compete for good internships and they receive college credit.

UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication won’t be participating in the Inquirer’s program.  I hope the Inquirer’s approach is not adopted by other news organizations.

I felt this was as good a place as any to respond to Folkerts’ complaint (wait—isn’t that the name of a Roth novel?), as Washington City Paper is currently benefiting from the unpaid labors of at least one very bright, damn-near overqualified student journalist (currently out interviewing unsuspecting DCers for a new podcast program).

Folkerts neglects to mention anywhere in her criticism that J-schools are partially responsible for this mess. Print knew it was in trouble years ago (and one suspects j-school admins knew it too) yet every journalism program in the country still offers a print component, and most of them still offer print concentrations.

I doubt UNC, Columbia, UF, Medill, NYU, U. Maryland, Syracuse or any other big j-school will heed the Inquirer’s call, but tsking from a distance while vamping their online media programs (some of which, as Mediashift has reported, are taught by people who know less about where the industry’s headed than their students), is hardly an adequate reform.

Here’s an idea: Since most graduate journalism programs charge out the ass anyway (when Columbia accepted me to the one-year New Media program, the forecasted cost of attendance was over $60,000—I declined to attend), why not offer scholarships to finance semester internships? Or better yet, build the cost of an internship into the tuition package so that students can use their student loans for summer housing. Though it may increase the cost of tuition—putting not just internships, but also education beyond some students’ financial reach—j-schools owe more to the industry and their students than an over-priced, under-valued piece of paper.