Media and Communication Professionals

Chapter Introduction

Communication professionals make meaning and manage meaning-making processes.

How is access to communication professions controlled?

What are the distinctive characteristics of communication work?

What makes communication work ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

In this chapter we:

  • Examine how who makes meaning is controlled.
  • Define communication work and immaterial labour.
  • Consider the professional ideologies of professional communicators.
  • Examine some contemporary features of ‘below the line’ work in the culture industry.

Cases & Activities

The meaning and value of media work

When we examine media and communication professionals we find values, narratives and practices they use to make their work meaningful to themselves, give them a collective identity as professionals, and position the value of their work for a broader public.

The professional identity of media and cultural workers is often embedded in their everyday practices and discourses. To understand them we have to do more than simply ask cultural workers to explain the value of their work, we also have to carefully observe how they give it meaning in their everyday interactions, the private and public places where they discuss their work and the cultural artefacts that they produce (Caldwell 2008).

Media and communication professionals are unique because they can use their own media and cultural production techniques and infrastructure to produce and publicise a narrative about the meaningfulness of their work. We see these narratives everywhere. 

John Caldwell (2008: 346) identifies a range of ‘registers’ through which we can see and understand how professional communicators make sense of their work. These include:

The range of texts communicators producing in doing their work. For example: demo tapes, pitch sessions, equipment iconography, how-to manuals, trade and craft narratives and anecdotes, on-the set work practices, association newsletters and corporate retreats.

Texts and rituals where professional communicators explain their work and industry to each other. For example: trade shows, trade publications, internship programs, technical reveals, panels on how to make it in the industry.

Texts and rituals where professional communicators explain their work to the public: making-of documentaries, DVD commentaries, docu-stunts during ‘sweeps’ weeks, online website, studio and network supported fan conventions, screening Q&As, televised show business reports, viral videos.


Tavi Gevinson on Rookie and creativity

Tavi Gevinson is an American writer and editor of the fashion blog Style Rookie. She rose to prominence in her early-teens as a creative and critical observer of popular culture. Tavi is a unique cultural producer because her work creatively engages with popular culture, art and her fans’ ideas and experiences in an open-ended way. The media she produces are often mixes and mash-ups of popular culture that draws on fan and internet culture.

Watch Tavi’s presentation ‘Tavi’s Big Big World (At 17)’ in Sydney’s Ideas at the House.

This presentation is an example of a professional communicator explaining their work to the public. Tavi reflects on and makes sense of her own identity in relation to her creative process and work as a media producers.

Is Tavi a fan or a professional? What’s the difference? What is a professional fan?

How is Tavi’s engagement with popular culture, literature, art, her own audience part of her identity as a cultural producer?

How does Tavi convert her identity and creativity practices – like scrapbooking – into valuable media content?

How does Tavi perform a narrative about herself that gives meaning to her work?

With Tavi or other professional communicators you are interested in, examine how they explain their work.

What arguments are they making about its meaning and value?

How do they make cultural work appear creative and desirable?

Who is the audience for the text and what does the professional want to tell that audience about their work?



Tavi Gevinson’s ‘Tavi’s Big Big World (at 17)’ at Ideas at The House.

Tavi Gevinson’s ‘Still figuring it out’ at TEDxTeen.

Russell Brand on the GQ awards.

Katherine Viner’s AN Smith lecture on journalism.


Internships and the law

In this chapter we’ve examined internships as a form of informal and low-paid or unpaid work. Internships are an increasingly mandatory part of studying and preparing for work in the media, communication and cultural industries.

What are your best and worst experiences with internships or work experience?

What would make an internship good or bad?

What do you think will be the good and bad aspects of work in the media and cultural industries?

What would be the advantages and disadvantages if unpaid internships were not a part of getting into the culture industries?

As part of responding to these questions you might also consider the legal status of internships. Below we’ve provided information on the legal status of internships in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.

How has your experience with internships corresponded with these legal requirements? Were you aware of these legal requirements before undertaking internships?


Are internships legal?

In the United States an internship is only legal if it meets a 6 point test (Perlin 2010: 66-67). Those six points are:

  • The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
  • The training is for the benefit of the trainee.
  • The trainers do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation.
  • The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.
  • The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the completion of the training period.
  • The employer and the trainee understand that trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
  • The test clearly aims to encourage employers to provide training and protect employees.

In the United Kingdom Alan Milburn’s report ‘Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions’ in 2009 recommended changes to internships after finding that they are only accessible to some which mean employers miss out on talented people, and talented people miss out on ways to get ahead (Perlin 2010: 163). Milburn’s report has been part of a wider debate in the United Kingdom about internships. Activist groups such as Interns Anonymous, Graduate Fog, Interns Aware and the National Union of Journalist’s scheme Cashback for Interns have campaigned for fair internships and pay for internships and graduates. Much of their efforts have focussed on lobbying HM Revenue and Customs to properly monitor and prosecute unpaid or underpaid forms of work. Graduate Fog ran the campaign Pay Your Interns to ‘name and shame’ those running unfair and unpaid internships. Interns Anonymous acts as a forum to promote discussion of the politics and ethics of internships. Part of their aim is to document the scope and nature of unpaid internships.

In the United Kingdom the term ‘internship’ has no legal status. Even if you agree to work for no pay, it is still illegal not to pay you. If an intern does regular paid work they may quality for employee benefits. An intern can only do unpaid work in two circumstances:

  • If the internship is less than 1 year and is a required part of a student’s studies.
  • If an internship only involves shadowing an employee, and now work is carried out by the intern.
  • If these conditions aren’t met an intern may be entitled to the national minimum wage, even if they agreed not to be paid. The only exception would be people working for a ‘charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or a statutory body’ who are voluntary works who ‘don’t get paid, except for limited benefits’ like travel and lunch expenses. This means that graduates who take up advertised unpaid internships for commercial enterprises are entitled to the national minimum wage. Even if they agree to work for free. They cannot ‘give away’ their right to fair pay.

In Australia the Fair Work Act covers work placements and internships. Like the United Kingdom, Australian legislation recognises ‘formal work experience arrangements that are a mandatory part of an education or training course’. To be an acceptable unpaid internship the arrangement must meet all these criteria:

  • Undertaken as a requirement of an Australian based educational or training course.
  • Authorised under a law or an administrative arrangement of the Commonwealth, a State or Territory.
  • Undertaken with an employer for which a person is not entitled to be paid any remuneration.
  • Unpaid work experience can be lawful in circumstances outside of these arrangements only if the person doesn’t meet the definition of an employee.


Fair Work Australia advises that the key considerations are:

  • Is the person assisting with business outputs and productivity?
  • Is the person in the role for an extended period of time?
  • Are there any expectations about the person’s productivity?
  • Who benefits from the arrangement?
  • Was the placement part of a vocational or university program?
  • If an ‘intern’ is doing productive work, over an extended period of time, that benefits the organisation, then the arrangement may come under the Fair Work Act and the person may legally be considered an employee.

The principles governing unpaid internships in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia are broadly similar, as are the contemporary debates about their ethics. While many young people willingly choose to undertake unpaid internships outside of their educational programs, the fact remains that these arrangements are often legally questionable. And, the young people who choose to participate in these programs also bear some responsibility to changing the culture of unpaid internships.

In response to the questionable moral, ethical and legal status of internships and to the detrimental social and cultural effects they have, Perlin refers to The Internship Institute’s ‘Intern Bill of Rights’.

The Intern Bill of Rights:

Given that the word 'intern' has no strict definition and covers a broad range or roles,

Given that most interns are workers, performing work of operational and economic importance,

Given that the laws and regulations pertaining to internships are often unclear, vary by jurisdiction, and rarely reference interns specifically,

Given that internships are of increasing, global importance, and have broad social implications,

Given that some internships are legal, just, and beneficial, while others are illegal, unethical and even exploitative,

Given that it is inequitable to require people to work for free to enter the workforce,

We proclaim this Intern Bill of Rights as a common standard by which to evaluate and improve internships for the benefit of interns, employers, and society as a whole.

Article 1: All interns deserve fair compensation for their work, usually in the form of wages and sometimes in the form of dedicated training.

Article 2: Interns are entitled to the same legal protections as all other workers, and should not be subject to discrimination, harassment, or arbitrary dismissal. Under these circumstances, interns should have the same standing in court and the same recourse to the law as all other workers.

Article 3: Interns should enjoy the same basic workplace benefits guaranteed to all other workers, including sick days, vacation time, worker's compensation and extra pay for over time.

Article 4: The hiring of interns should be as transparent and nondiscriminatory as the hiring of full-time employees.

Article 5: No one should be forced to take an unpaid internships or required to pay in order to work.

Article 6: Any internships subsidised with public funds should meeting exemplary legal and ethical standards.

Article 7: Internships are a category of work that should be defined, recognised by policy makers and officials, studied, monitored, and improved.

Article 8: Interns must be treated with dignity and respect by coworkers and supervisors.

Article 9: The word 'intern' should be applied ethically and transparently to opportunities that involve substantial training, mentoring, and getting to know a line of work.

Use the Intern Bill of Rights to prompt discussion with peers about the politics and culture of internships.

How do your experiences with internships correlate with the legal requirements and this bill of rights?

Is this bill of rights adequate to creating an internship system that is valuable to both industries and aspiring professionals?



Pro Publica blog on intern experiences.


UK National Minimum Wage (including for Internships).

UK Employment Rights and Pay for Interns.

UK Milburn report ‘Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions’.

Australian Fair Work policies on student placements.

Australian Fair Work Ombudsman’s report ‘Experience or Exploitation? The Nature, Prevalence and Regulation of Unpaid Work Experience, Internships and Trial Periods in Australia’.

Australian Radio National Law Report on internships.

Intern activism

Interns Anonymous.

Graduate Fog.

Intern Aware.

National Union of Journalists.

Intern Bill of Rights.


Further Readings

The readings listed here each address different aspects of the experiences of media, communication and cultural work. The readings by Banks (2010), Hearn (2008) and Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2011) each address the subjective experience of work and the way that professional communicators use their identity and creativity in their work. In each article questions about autonomy, creativity and freedom are addressed. The readings by Hearn (2008) and McRobbie (2002) each pay attention to the way professional communicators are called on to produce ourselves as a valuable brand within flexible media and communication workplaces. They are each concerned about the effects competitive relationships have on the identities, social relationships and products of professional communicators. Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2011) and Ursell (2000) each address the range of professional, casual, flexible and ‘below the line’ employment relationships that exist in media and cultural industries.

Banks, M. (2010). Autonomy Guaranteed? Cultural Work and the “Art–Commerce Relation”. Journal for Cultural Research, 14(3), 251-269.

Hearn, A. (2008). Meat, Mask, Burden: Probing the contours of the brandedself. Journal of Consumer Culture, 8(2), 197-217.

Hesmondhalgh, D., & Baker, S. (2008). Creative work and emotional labour in the television industry. Theory, culture & society, 25(7-8), 97-118.

McRobbie, A. (2002). Clubs to companies: Notes on the decline of political culture in speeded up creative worlds. Cultural Studies, 16(4), 516-531.

Ursell, G. (2000). Television production: issues of exploitation, commodification and subjectivity in UK television labour markets. Media, Culture & Society, 22(6), 805-825.