The current expansion of the New York Times into "local" sections, where the news product delivered is provided by students for no pay, has now come to hit us where it hurts-right by our offices. The Times has announced today that NYU students will staff its new "East Village local" web publication. My objections to this are two-fold and related!
First, this setup entrenches the professionalization of journalism. Want to get known at the New York Times, which has a hiring freeze, except where it doesn't? Great: mortgage your future with a wildly-expensive j-school degree, which may or may likely not later provide you with a job that will not allow you to pay it back in the next two decades.
Second, this set-up suggests that the way to finance local news operations is only on the backs of free labor.
(Also, my third and minor objection is that most of the reporters are going to be young people who actually don't know anything about the history of the area they're reporting on. But that's fine, if they are smart or have time to learn things or have a good editor.)
I can totally understand the argument that creating these publications and staffing them as such is the best way for the kids to learn. And sure, I'd rather j-schools have students go out and report for a publication than have them sit in class and talk about Twitter and whatever. But this kind of working for free isn't just the situation of their school days; this is most likely how it's going to be after they graduate too. (Heh?) Training them to accept these conditions is just a way to prepare them for the non-job market.
Better: why not partner the Arthur Carter School of Journalism gang with the Stern School of Business-and force the kids to, in concert, devise a model of a local publication that pays? Arthur Carter would approve, for sure.