Who or What Is Answering the Phones
August 27, 2013
Recently, a federal judge ruled that Fox Searchlight broke the law by not paying two interns who worked on the movie "Black Swan." One of the interns, a 41-year-old New Yorker interned on the movie during a career transition, drawing up purchase orders, making spreadsheets and running errands for free and without the one form of compensation unpaid interns expect - training.
Two days after the "Black Swan" ruling, two former interns at the New Yorker and W Magazine sued parent company Conde Nast Publications. According to a recent article in Time Magazine, at least six similar lawsuits have been filed in the fields of fashion, sports, television and modeling. And then there is the lawsuit three former interns filed against the online gossip site Gawker. In the suit, the interns claim Gawker was "illegally boosting the bottom line by classifying workers as interns to avoid shelling out wages."
Hopefully, interning in radio will not become a faint memory, many students have used these unpaid apprenticeships to launch their careers. I can remember one former intern of mine who later interned on various movie sets and production companies and is now she is an independent film producer with several profitable projects under her belt. Sometimes it amazes me how a few companies could endanger a practice which has been mutually beneficial for employers, schools, and students. I will now share with you an e-mail from a concerned intern.
Intern: I am interning at a station and I'm answering the phones at the front desk way more than I think I should. This is not what I came here for. This is my senior year and I have a three-hour show once a week at my college station. I feel I have a lot to offer and keep getting all these petty jobs around here. Classmates of mine have internships at other radio stations and they are doing a lot more than I am. In fact one of them has actually done a few commercials. Do you think they just don't really want me here?
Coach: Everyone has their own teaching method and although I do not know your exact circumstances, I am sure the station does appreciate what you are doing. All assignments are important and need to be taken seriously; if it wasn't for you, a station employee would be doing them. Although answering the phone at the receptionist desk seems unimportant to you, it may be part of a plan for more things to come. I will try to explain; years ago I began taking golf lesson twice a week from a gentleman named Ernie and for the first several lessons he had me hitting nothing but short pitch shots. I was bored out of my mind and I can still hear him -- "Check your hands to make sure you are holding the club properly, take a marginally open stance with a little more weight on the front leg, look at your target, now take the club back slowly back to this point, make sure you keep that left arm straight, get your nose directly over the ball, and blah blah blah." I wondered why he had me hitting so many pitch shots, I had told him the point of taking lessons was to hit with my woods better. Then suddenly during my fourth session, he told me to put my pitching wedge back in the bag, get my 9 iron, take a full swing, and to pull down behind the ball just I had done with my wedge. I was wondering what the big deal was and then whoosh, the ball shot up in the air towards the target and landed softly; never had I hit my 9 iron so high and far! All those boring weeks Ernie had been helping me build a proper swing. I had no idea how much he was teaching me.
Every task in a radio station has meaning, especially answering the phones at the front desk. It's the first point of contact for anyone calling the station and the focal point for company communications; sales calls, community events, and all sorts of business inquiries are in the hands of the person answering the business phones. Although many companies have an automated answering system most callers opt for the operator, a human being with the power to actually connect them with someone. So, it may not be glamorous, but the more you know about the inner working of a radio station, the more you will appreciate each departments contribution.
Intern: Okay, I never thought of it that way, but I want to cut commercials and do some stuff on the air.
Coach: How many weeks have you been interning?
Intern: Three weeks.
Coach: I am guessing, but I assume you were given a list of things you would be doing during your internship, yes or no?
Intern: Well, my advisor did give me a list of some stuff and the station also had a meeting with all of us interns when we started.
Coach: Well, go back over the list and have a casual conversation with whoever is in charge of the station internships. I know you are a little disappointed right now, but have some patience and I am sure your conversation will refocus you on the game plan for your internship. And if it turns out that whatever you were promised is not happening, go meet with you school advisor.
Internships serve a useful purpose to both the student and station. For me interns were a breath of fresh air and research subjects because age wise, they were part of my target demographic. Many of my former interns are currently working in radio or an industry akin to broadcasting. Some of my former student laborers actually worked for me. I would always tell new Interns they would be doing a lot of paperwork, help out at remotes, sit in on music meetings, get a chance to learn the production board, do some dubbing, receive mentoring from other departments, and get answers to a lot of their questions. Two things are important for a successful radio internship program:
The school should provide a clear set of mentoring objectives for the students interning.
A station should provide the school and the intern an outline of general duties and specific skilled assignments.