On Staff: Do Glossy Fashion Magazine Internships Still Exist?

·8 min read

When Condé Nast recently posted its list of summer 2021 internship opportunities, two facts stood out.

Not only was it the first time the publisher of Vogue, Allure, GQ, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and other titles has held the program since 2013, but among the 10 jobs advertised, all of which are full time and paid, only one is in editorial — at digital-only publication Glamour, which no longer has a fashion team. The others are in areas such as finance, legal and technology across multiple brands.

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WWD understands that there will likely be another opening at Vogue Runway, which will mostly be editorial, but this is still way down from the number of editorial internships the publisher used to offer in the long-gone heyday of magazine journalism, when most brands would have multiple interns at a time.

Back then, despite the low pay (if any at all) and often myriad menial tasks, glossy fashion magazine editorial internships were so sought after that a whole reality show was centered around them.

The Style Network’s “Running in Heels” saw three interns vying for the attention of then-Marie Claire editor Joanna Coles in between her infamous treadmill desk and a plethora of fashion shows, tropical location shoots and celebrity interviews.

Then there was MTV’s “The Hills,” which featured protagonists Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port interning at Teen Vogue and facing the wrath of the West Coast director Lisa Love when Conrad’s friends, including Heidi Montag and Audrina Patridge, gatecrashed a Young Hollywood party. Also interning at Teen Vogue during that time was Emily Weiss, who went on to launch Glossier.

And ask any of today’s top editors and most will list multiple internships that they completed, with a lot of time spent in the fashion closets of the biggest magazines before they scored their first permanent gig.

In recent years, though, such internships have been fewer and farther in between and demand is also not what it once was.

InStyle will have just one apprentice this year — from Iowa State University — through publisher Meredith Corp.’s Apprentice Program at its Des Moines, Iowa, headquarters. This is in addition to the company’s 12-strong paid summer associates program in areas including content creation, news, marketing, data and insights, insights engineering and digital engineering.

Hearst Magazines, whose brands include Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Elle, still takes a few interns across some of its fashion brands, although down significantly from the early Aughts. A representative did not disclose details apart from that they will be virtual amid the pandemic, or reveal which publications most recently participated. Job listings from 2019 showed that Hearst advertised for a features intern at Marie Claire. That was unpaid, but current ones are understood to be paid.

Part of the reason for so few glossy magazine internships stems back to a slew of lawsuits. In 2012, a former Harper’s Bazaar intern sued Hearst Magazines, alleging the publication violated minimum wage and overtime laws, which a judge dismissed. Then, most notably, Condé Nast shelled out $5.8 million to settle a 2013 class-action lawsuit by 7,500 former interns who claimed the company failed to pay them at least minimum wage and overtime, leading the publisher to press pause on its internship program — until now.

At the time, this led to a fierce debate over whether internships were vital for getting a foothold in the industry and making connections or if some of them just took advantage of college students and graduates.

In the case of Condé Nast, which has laid off and furloughed a sizable number of staffers during the pandemic, these new 10-weeklong internships appear to be more formal and regulated and are likely to involve more than coffee runs and picking up dry cleaning. The publisher is no doubt hoping much less likely to result in legal action.

The remit of the data marketing intern, for example, includes collaborating with numerous teams across data organization and learning the capabilities of its audience engagement and growth analytics tools, as well as developing and launching the new monthly internal data newsletter.

But Aileen Gallagher, associate professor of magazine, news and digital journalism at Syracuse University, also believes there’s another reason at play.

“Students aren’t necessarily as interested in the glossies, but they’re certainly interested in editorial opportunities and those opportunities might just look different. You have a lot of organizations that are doing magazine style journalism and the students are really branching out to what they’re going after,” Gallagher said.

“I often show ‘The September Issue’ for students. Many of them in the past will have already seen it and their eyes go aglow when I say we’re going to talk about ‘The September Issue,'” she continued. “This year, I showed parts of it and talked about it and no one knew about it. It just wasn’t on their radar. Granted, the movie is at this point 14 years old and I get that, but the reverence for fashion glossies just isn’t there.”

Even applications to American Society of Magazine Editors’ prestigious magazine internship program decreased in the last couple of years, although Sidney Holt, ASME’s executive director, assumes that is because of the pandemic. Fashion and lifestyle brands, including Hearst and Meredith titles, participate in the program every year. Brands that participated in 2019 and 2020 include O, The Oprah Magazine, The Pioneer Woman Magazine, Real Simple and People.

“Last year, especially, there was a lot of concern about spending the summer in the city until it became clear that everyone, not just interns, would be working remotely,” she said. “I will say that we’re still drawing top applicants, especially from the major journalism programs like Medill [at Northwestern] and Syracuse and a lot of participants are still going on to successful careers at magazines and web sites.”

According to Gallagher, students have been looking at internships at a number of digital outlets that do magazine-style journalism, as well as NPR, branded content and social media.

Bustle Digital Group, whose brands include Bustle, Nylon, Romper and Mic, has had an internship program since it started and this year’s paid summer internship will have around 20 interns virtually, with the biggest demand for editorial.

“Bustle being our founding brand tends to get the biggest amount of interns, and they usually focus on style content,” explained Trisha Dearborn, BDG’s head of human resources. “I think that’s been the case honestly for the past four or five years that our internship program has really taken off and always been in high demand because traditional publishers have been harder to get internships with….The demand is definitely higher than ever.”

W, which was acquired by a gaggle of celebrity investors including Karlie Kloss, Kaia Gerber and Lewis Hamilton in partnership with BDG, doesn’t currently take interns, but Dearborn is hoping to include it in the internship program in the future. (It was an intern at W when it was owned by Condé Nast who filed the original suit, along with an intern from The New Yorker.)

New York Magazine offers paid internships, including one per semester at The Cut and one per semester at Vulture. Through Vox Media’s fellowship program, it also has three yearlong fellows — two at Intelligencer and one in photo.

Airmail, the weekly online newsletter Graydon Carter founded in 2019 after departing Vanity Fair, also plans to set up a paid internship after the pandemic “to help kids that don’t have family connections and don’t have tons of money and exposure who are talented.”

As for how internships will work remotely, a representative for Condé Nast told WWD that it will be the “same way nearly all of us have been working for the past year,” with team meetings, training and mentorship opportunities conducted via Zoom. “If at some point this summer our teams begin a phased return to the office, we may consider bringing a portion of the program on site, but are currently planning for all remote,” she added.

ASME’s Holt added that while interns will be working remotely again this year, as they did last year, and this doesn’t allow for the kind of mentoring interns enjoyed in the past, it does mean it can include publications from outside New York and Washington in the program and reduces expenses, such as housing, for participants.

In the past, many students were blocked out of internships as they could not afford to live in New York City, where the bulk of internships took place, for an entire summer.

BDG, meanwhile, will most likely have a mix of virtual and in-person internships even after the company returns to the office.

“I do think that the virtual setup gave us a reach to have a much more diverse internship program from the schools we went to and the locations,” Dearborn said.

For more, see:

Allure Bans Several Sustainability Buzzwords Around Packaging

How Diverse Are the Three Biggest Consumer Magazine Publishers? New Reports Reveal Breakdown

The Magazines People Have Actually Been Reading During the Pandemic

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