I’ll Talk, You’ll Fill That Notebook

Unpaid Internships and Independent Publishing

There was a professor at my university who was opposed to internships. I understood his perspective to an extent, but I also pointed out that professors’ research assistants don’t make that much money, and students clock in so many unpaid hours in the hopes of finishing a class with an A.

An A – add that to your GPA, tally up all those sleepless nights, and students still think it’s worth it. Internships, for those of us who do not want to pursue academia yet – or at all – are ways to gauge what the future holds.

If you’re not running for coffee, you’re actually learning details of the publishing industry; you’re developing your writing style; your writing is published. I will paraphrase a friend, now interning for The Walrus after university: Don’t just work for anybody for free – choose a publication that you potentially want to write for, that will expose you to people you want to work for, and will be worth those 60+ hours you clock in every week without a red cent to show for it.

Stephanie Fereiro writes, edits, fact-checks – all for free – for Worn Fashion Journal. If you aren’t familiar with Worn, I suggest you run by the Concordia Co-op Bookstore and catch up. It is a publication that was started here in Montreal, by Serah-Marie McMahon. The nerve centre is now in Toronto.

Photos of the latest issue of Worn, courtesy of the Worn website.

Worn delves into the more personal and historical perspectives of the clothes we slip into and out of every single day. Its community of interns (the Wornettes) are eager, intelligent girls like Stephanie, who work tirelessly to assemble an issue of thought-provoking takes on clothing.

Here are Stephanie’s insights on internships, journalism school, and Worn.

What do you read now versus what you read before?

In high school I was obsessed with Australian magazines like Frankie and YEN, as well as several British ones, including Dazed & Confused and i-D. I also read Nylon, Teen Vogue and a bunch of others, but I can’t remember them all offhand.

When I moved out of my parents’ house in university, I started being more careful with what I bought. The magazines I read religiously were all in the $10-20 range, so I had to buy fewer than I did before. Some of my current favourites are Bon, POP, The Gentlewoman, and Russh.

Writers you admire, and why?

This is difficult. I’ve always had more favourite novelists than I’ve had favourite non-fiction writers. I’m not sure why that is. I’m going to have to say that one of the writers I admire most is Joan Didion, and just leave it at that. I’m nowhere near having read all of her work [because, I mean, it goes on forever], but I recently read Slouching Towards Bethlehem and it completely blew me away.

How has your writing style evolved since your first year at Ryerson? What do you do differently? What are you more conscious of?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how my writing has changed over the years. I think I’m a lot less afraid now to express my own thoughts and opinions in writing. I also think I have more of a personal style now than I did in high school and my first year at Ryerson, when everything was really formal and boring.

I’ve also learned to answer the “why” questions with everything I write. Why am I writing this? Why should people read it? Why will anybody care?

Many people don’t like the idea of unpaid internships. You have interned before, and you help out with WORN – do you feel the same way? If not, why?

I believe that if you care about a publication enough to spend your time working on it without pay, it’ll be rewarding for you in some other way. Unpaid internships are something I think people just have to accept. There is a certain point, though, where someone has to make the decision to stop interning and try something new if they’re starving and can’t pay their rent.

I love WORN, and although I sometimes — okay, often — wish it was a full-time, paid job, I’m happy to volunteer my time to produce such a great product. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that my editor has the best DVD and book collections to lend, and she gives good life advice.

It feels great to have an editor who is willing to help you out however she can, even if you’re working on something that isn’t related to the magazine. My experience volunteering at WORN has taken nothing from me, but it has given me so much.

Let’s talk about WORN a bit. What is it that WORN does differently from VOGUE?

You mean besides everything, right? [Kidding. Kind of.] Well, WORN is independently published, and we have very few advertisers — and the ones we do have know they will have no say in what goes, or doesn’t go, on our pages. I can’t say with 100% certainty that advertisers influence the content of Vogue, but I’m certain they accept free stuff.

Right now, WORN doesn’t accept free stuff, besides books. WORN also strays from talking about trends or telling readers what to buy, which I think is a large part of the reason many of our readers like us. We also use our own clothing and vintage finds in our editorial shoots, rather than designer items. I could go on forever. I think a lot of our readers probably look at Vogue, too. They’re just looking for something different from us. We’re definitely different.

Discuss your experiences as an intern at WORN. All of you are volunteering, and you’re all so dedicated to WORN, which can be rare for a small, independent publication. Why?

We do it because we love the magazine, and those who intern and realize it’s not for them leave. That’s just how it goes. I’ve been with WORN for almost two years now, and with each new issue that comes out, I’m more convinced that it’s worth my time. It is work, but it’s work I like doing.

Because WORN is still relatively new and independently published, there is a lot of room to mold your own position on staff. If you want to practice writing, they’ll let you practice writing. If you want to work on a photo-shoot and you show initiative, they will probably let you help out. Our editors are really good that way — they know that you’re volunteering and they want to give you something to take away from the experience, even though they can’t pay you in money.

What are your thoughts on independent publishing? Is there always a need for a stringent editorial process?

I think independent publishing is great in a lot of ways, but it is difficult. If you’re self-publishing, you’d better have a lot of money on hand, or you’re going to struggle. Publishing independently is a good way to avoid pressure from advertisers, because you decide how much of your space will go to ads and you decide who you will accept onto your pages. It allows you to control everything yourself, from editorial content to layout and design, without worrying about what a higher power will say.

I think there is a need for a stringent editorial process in any publication that takes itself, its writers, and its readers seriously. If you want your readers to come to you for certain information, that information needs to be correct. And if you want to keep someone reading a 2000-word article, the writing needs to be polished and engaging. Then again, let’s say you’re producing a zine of personal stories by several different writers — well, editing those stories may ruin them. I think the intensity of the editing process should really depend on the publication.

Why are social media and blogging sites so important for writers today? Do you think it’s important to develop a readership like this?

That’s an interesting question, and it’s something I think about a lot. I “have a website”:http://www.stephaniefereiro.com/ where I post all of my published writing, but I’m pretty particular about what I put online. With Twitter, I’m more relaxed and not afraid to let some of myself show, but I’ve deleted all the blogs I started in high school — yes, all the blogs.

I think social media and blogging are important because they help you develop a voice and they break down barriers that prevent people from reaching each other. However, I think everyone — not only writers — should be careful of how they present themselves online, because I do believe it can change how people see you, whether or not they know you in real life.

What makes a blog interesting today? We’re all so inundated with blogs, so which ones stand out more and why?

To be honest, I don’t read nearly as many blogs as I did in high school and in my first year of university. Now, most of the blogs I read regularly are my favourites from a few years ago, or they’re the thought catalogs of people I know. Oh, I also read a lot of the stuff on Thought Catalog, but I don’t know if that counts as a blog.

For me, a blog has to be written in a smart, interesting voice, and it has to express some sort of opinion that I won’t get elsewhere. For me to read a fashion-only blog regularly, the blogger needs to be creative and inspiring, without only wearing major brand names. Otherwise, I’ll read any blog that reminds me of the inside of my own head.

In then end, what is it like being a young writer and intern? Are there a lot of writing opportunities available?

I think there are so many “young writers” now that it’s difficult to gauge how many opportunities there are, or where that balance lies. I really think you have to build your own opportunities. If you want to do something, you just have to do it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there are many paid writing opportunities right now, which is discouraging. When I tell people I’m in school for journalism, they usually ask what I really want to do — because, as it stands, very few people see writing as a viable career choice. It would be great, in some ways, to go to school for something “practical” and know that a specific job is waiting on the other side. But at the same time, I think that would be awfully boring.

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