It all started early last Sunday morning when I was sitting peacefully
on my couch, sipping tea and reading the papers. I was flicked fairly
mindlessly, my brain pre-occupied by the pressing question “How early
is too early for yum cha?” and the related dilemma “Can I feasibly eat
prawn gow gees before 10am?” Just when I’d decided, “Yes! Yes I can!”,
my focus was suddenly drawn back to the newspaper by the unwelcome
sight of my own face staring back at me. And it wasn’t attached to this
Oh dear. Hate looking at pictures of myself in any context, let alone
the news section of the paper. Never a good thing. Instant dread.
Glanced quickly at the other photos on the page, scanned the headline
and ascertained it was something about magazine editors – of which I’m
no longer one but whatever.
The gist of the story was that the magazine industry was apparently in a “tizz” about some anonymous rumours on a website.
One of these rumours – are you sitting down? – was that “Mia Freedman
once sent a work experience person out to buy her son a banana.” A
banana. A BANANA.
Here’s a brief snapshot of what went through my head after reading that sentence.
1. Did I do that? Possibly. But more likely banana was for self. Son not partial to bananas.
2. Even if true about son, banana is fruit. Good Mother Points in that.
3. At least no mention of the time I sent Art Director to buy my son
McDonalds. That definitely happened. Look, she was going there anyway.
4. Why is shocking banana allegation not on page 1 where it belongs? 2020 Summit? Pah!
As my friends and family woke up and opened their own newspapers, my phone began to beep. “At least it wasn’t a Mars Bar!” texted my mum. “Selfish cow,” texted an editor friend. “Why didn’t you let work experience girl choose the cover and then take her out to dinner?”
During yum cha, and for the next few days, I thought a lot about work experience students and how their expectations have changed. In short: A Lot.
I started my own career doing work experience when I was 19 and my first boss was the wonderful Lisa Wilkinson.
Back then (in my day etc), I was grateful for the chance to get her coffee or her mail. I would have gladly washed Lisa’s car – or her feet – had I been asked. Heck, I would have blow-dried her dog (I do know an editor who was asked to do this when she herself did work experience at a magazine). During this time, I believe I was also regularly sent to fetch assorted muffins and sandwiches for staff. And one time? A peach. I know. But it’s true.
Occasionally, when the receptionist was at lunch, I was given the basic task of sitting at her desk and answering the phone. For me, this was Christmas. I was stoked just to be there, breathing the air. I was ambitious and knew from day one that I wanted to be an editor but even with the arrogance of youth, I understood it would take a little time before I got to do the really fun stuff.
So I’ve always had a soft spot for work experience students. As an editor, I insisted we have a structured program to give them a well-rounded understanding of how a magazine worked. Inevitably, this included some boring tasks because – GUESS WHAT KIDS – there are many, many boring tasks to be done in every workplace. At every level.
Over the years, I began to notice a change in attitude from some (not all) of the work experience students. Gratitude was being replaced with a sense of entitlement and absurd expectations.
I’m guessing that Banana Girl was one of those; a sixteen year old who rocked up for her week expecting to interview Jessica Alba and attend fashion shows. That’s the kind of experience she was after, thanks. And she wasn’t the only one.
More and more, I noticed work experience students arking up and it was driving my already over-worked staff nuts. It got to the point where, before they came, we had to inform them in writing that “you will be required to do administrative tasks and whatever else is required to help around the office including trips to the mail room, coffee runs, filing etc”.
Some decided this wasn’t, like, acceptable and never showed up. Others showed up and then sulked. Or disappeared mid-week.
To ensure my radar wasn’t unreasonably set to Fuddy Duddy due to my Gen X status, this week I asked some of my Gen Y mag colleagues about their experiences with work experience.
They came back with some corkers.
Like the girl who emailed an editor direct with a story idea and signed off with “Get back to me ASAP”.
Or the one who refused to help the fashion assistant take clothes down to the courier dock, announcing, “I have a degree, I’m not a Sherpa.”
Or the one who said to the deputy editor “I’d really like to interview a celebrity while I’m here. Can you arrange it?”
Of course, many work experience students are wonderful young women (and occasionally, young men, bless their brave souls). A 26 year old features editor puts it like this: “It would be 50/50 split: the little creatures who slump and sigh at being asked to get the mail, and those who have already gone down and got it before you can ask. Guess who gets the internships…”
Back in my day there were no internships. They should be grateful….