"For a while, it seemed that unpaid internships were about to become relics of history,"Jordan Weissmann reported July 2 for Slate.
"In 2013, a federal trial court judge in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight should have paid interns who worked on the production of its Oscar-winning film Black Swan, because they were indistinguishable from regular employees, tasked as they were with fetching coffee, taking phone calls, handling paperwork, and in one case apparently buying a non-allergenic pillow for director Darren Aronofsky.
"The decision helped usher in a wave of lawsuits by former interns against their employers in the media business. Companies including Condé Nast, NBC Universal, Viacom, and Warner Music eventually ponied up for settlements totaling millions of dollars.
"Perhaps they should have waited a little longer before making a payout. Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reversed the lower-court's decision in the Black Swan case, as well as a similar suit involving magazine publisher Hearst, essentially finding that unpaid internships can be legal if they're educational enough. Should the ruling stand, it may be all but impossible for former interns to sue their ex-bosses in the future.
"In his 2013 opinion, Judge William Pauley III found that Fox Searchlights interns should have been considered employees under federal law and were entitled to at least the minimum wage. In doing so, he relied on a six-part test advocated by the Department of Labor, which says that workers are owed a paycheck if their employer gets an 'immediate advantage' from their labor (that includes, presumably, convenient access to caffeine and luxury bedding).
"But according to today's decision, Pauley's approach was too strict. The 2nd Circuit ruled that interns could go unpaid so long as a job benefited them more as a learning experience than it benefits their employer financially. . . ."
Diversity advocates have long challenged unpaid internships, saying that requiring interns to work only for the experience or for college credit amounts to favoring students with well-to-do parents.
WAMU-FM, the NPR News affiliate in the nation's capital, has ventured where few if any other public radio stations have dared — it has brought diversity to the voices that proclaim that "support for this station comes from . . ."
The voice of underwriting credits — de facto commercials — is often overlooked in conversations about public broadcasting diversity. Yet Reeves Wiedeman, writing in 2013 for the New Yorker, called the underwriting voice for NPR, "by unofficial estimate, the most widely heard in the history of public radio." He was writing about the voice of Frank Tavares, whom listeners heard for 31 years.
WAMU acted on a suggestion from this column to bring diversity to this part of its programming. The current voice of the NPR network, heard three times an hour night and day, is not part of any similar move toward diversity.
WAMU's new voices are James Barbour, who is African American, and Sarah Cumbie, a WAMU traffic specialist who is white.
"Our experiment with James Barbour, who is an African-American underwriting rep at WAMU, is part of a larger, longer-term effort to rethink WAMU looking toward the future," General Manager J.J. Yore told Journal-isms by email.
"My goal is to make WAMU more inclusive and attract an audience that is more diverse — racially, ethnically, geographically, and by age. We are still defining what we can accomplish, how, and over what time frame. All this is coming out of a major strategic planning and operational improvement project. We expect our plans to start rolling out in the last few months of the year, and lead into a fundraising campaign to support the effort."
Yore is a veteran producer credited as a creator of the public radio show "Marketplace."