Alec Dudson of Intern: ‘I was inspired by the pickle I found myself in’ – interview

It’s no secret that internships and work experience placements are considered the launch pad for numerous careers, not just journalism. The intern generation is now such an established part of modern life that there’s a whole magazine dedicated to it called, well, Intern. I spoke to the Editor-in-Chief all about the origins of Intern and what the magazine aims to represent.

Alec Dudson has done his fair share of interning. In March 2012, he took on a two-month placement with Domus magazine in Milan. Following that, he moved to London in search of a position with an independent magazine and interned, unpaid, at Boat magazine for seven months.

“I knew from the start that there wasn’t a job at the end of it. I found that despite doing nine months of internships, and gaining a wealth of hands-on experience, I was by no means any more employable. That job that I was trying to work towards didn’t seem any more attainable.”

It was at this point that Alec started to consider the idea of doing a project on his own. The more he tried to come up with a concept for a magazine, the more the idea of internships ‘kept coming back to me’.

“I was inspired by the pickle I found myself in. It struck me as an opportunity to not just represent a sort of underclass of workers and shift the power into their hands and put them centre-stage, but also to try and give people an opportunity to go into the world of internships, or even circumvent it, just through having a little bit more of an idea of what the lie of the land was. When I got into it, even though my first internship was at the ripe old age of 27, I hadn’t got a clue what was expected of you; how long you were meant to do internships before someone took you seriously and so on. It seemed like an opportunity to do something of my own and something that could hopefully have a bit more purpose to it than just being a magazine for a magazine’s sake.”

After pitching the idea to his colleagues at Boat, Alec started working with the initial contributors, designers She Was Only to develop the art direction, and in May 2013, he set up a Kickstarter campaign to crowd-fund the first issue. Alec asked for £5,500 and received £7,115. “It could have gone either way, fortunately it went well for us,” he says.

The magazine itself is a beautiful product, reminiscent of its contemporaries like Wonderland and Dazed and Confused. Thick pages, packed full of stunning images, all with a design that has clearly been painstakingly mulled over. Considering all this and the fact that Alec is determined to pay every contributor, would it not have been cheaper to just create Intern as a website?

“For me personally, online’s fine. Online’s great. It’s easy, it’s cheap but I think print carries a certain weight and meaning that web content simply doesn’t. All of the tactile beauty that you can bring to a print publication, I think that only elevates the platform. And one of our main aims with the magazine is to put our contributors’ work in the best possible light. There are so many people out there whose work is of a standard that you could make a magazine out of and it could sit next to a heap of the magazines that inspired it. With a magazine you have so many different opportunities and levels on which you can catch people’s attention and communicate. If you take care about things like the paper stock you use, there are people out there who will pick up your magazine because they like the texture of it. I do it all the time. I’ll pick up a magazine, I’ll flick through and I’ll stop where the pictures are, if it’s got really beautiful photos in. A lot of the time I’ll buy the magazine and read it when I get home, and it’s only then that what the magazine is about is given chance to get through to me.”

At present, Intern exists as a print magazine and an iPad edition. It does have a website but Alec says that it will never feature any content from the print edition. The iPad edition features video, music and extra photographic content, while still keeping the print version’s minimalist aesthetic.

I made the perhaps, in hindsight, ill-informed decision to self-distribute the first issue, and the reality is that that has perhaps limited, because of the costs of shipping, the amount of print copies we’ve been able to get out to the likes of Canada, the US and Australia. If you’re in the States and you’re not near one of the handful of stores that sells Intern, you’re paying more like £16 to get a physical copy, which is obviously above the $16 cover price. The advantage of the iPad edition, while I will always believe that the print arm of Intern is the main event, is that it’s an opportunity to introduce more people to the concept and what we’re about. I don’t think it’s outside the realms of possibility that someone could buy the iPad edition and then be enthused to check out the print edition as well.”

So here’s the burning question; will Intern become the voice of its generation on a political level, calling for an end to unpaid internships?

“My approach to the magazine is that it has to be neutral for all intents and purposes. There are elements of it that inescapably give away some of my personal views. We make the point of paying our contributors and when they’re with us they’re not interns, they’re contributors. There are no interns at Intern. The whole direction of it is to showcase people’s work and to provide a balanced, well thought-out and unbiased debate, and allow people to approach the subject on a variety of levels and make up their own mind. I think the moment you hang your hat on a stance you’re in dangerous territory, particularly when things shift so constantly on an issue like this. Everyone thinks that change is afoot but the reality is that nothing’s going to happen overnight. I think our approach will always be as a neutral aggregator of information and I hope that amongst that we can provide interesting angles and perspectives.”

But with an abundance of campaigns fighting against illegal unpaid internships, and some wishing for the abolishment of internships altogether in favour of more entry-level positions, what kind of future does Alec foresee for Intern?

“That will depend on the financial realities of the situation. It is not easy to make an independent magazine. It’s a costly business and it’s one whose profits, for the most part, are pretty slim. I’m committed to doing my very best to make sure that Intern has a relatively long and healthy life. Depending on what happens with the culture of internships, it could be that the magazine decides to fold because there’s not really anything else to say on the matter. I’d like to think that might happen before its production is finished for other reasons, but I don’t know. My main concern at the minute is to try and make it financially viable and if we can, very steadily and sensibly grow, we’ll see where we are in an issue or two. For me, it’s still an incredibly steep learning curve. I make mistakes every day and find solutions every other day. It will go for as long as I can make it, and for as long as it seems relevant.”

This post originally appeared on Wannabe Hacks


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