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


Wannabe Hack (officially)

After spending most of the summer working in the restaurant, pulling 7-shift (50+ hour) weeks to cover other people’s holidays, I haven’t had much time to write, in any capacity. I feel like I’ve totally neglected my food blog, through not having any time to try out new places to eat, and then through not having any time to write about it.

I’ve totally neglected this blog too. I’ve written down so many ideas of things to write about but when I finally got round to it, whatever it was didn’t seem topical anymore, like the subject had already run its course and everything worth saying had been said.

Needless to say, my lack of writing and the fact that I was getting no further with job applications left me feeling pretty disheartened, which is why I made the decision back in September to change direction a little bit and embark on a TEFL qualification. I completed the first 20-hour intensive weekend course at the beginning of October, and now I have 100 more hours of online work to complete before I receive my qualification.

Around the same time, I was successful in my application to join the team behind Wannabe Hacks, a fantastic website offering advice, in-depth analysis and comment on important issues, and the opportunity to discuss and debate with like-minded young journalists. Wannabe Hacks was a fantastic resource for me when I was studying and I’m thrilled to be joining the team. Today, I spent several hours brainstorming and researching for post ideas, and spent even longer filming an (embarrassing) introductory video which will appear on the website in the next few weeks. I’m going to see how it turns out before I decide whether or not to link to it here…

All this considered, I’ve cut back on my hours at the restaurant – frugality resumes – so that not only do I have time for all these new things, but that I have the time to do them well.

And luckily, it seems to be a rather exciting time in the journalism world for job opportunities – especially now that summer is well and truly over – so with any luck I’ll have some more good news in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, I will be studying the best ways to teach different English grammar points while also thinking of some exciting multimedia/data projects and articles for Wannabe Hacks. And if you’re a young and/or aspiring journalist reading this and there are things you want to see on the Wannabe Hacks website, let me know and I’ll do my best to make sure we cover it.

New projects

I think it’s about time for an update.

At the time of my last blog post, I was unemployed and miserable. Now, I am employed and trucking on nicely with life – hurrah! After two months of receiving a pitiful Job Seeker’s Allowance, I decided enough was enough and headed out to do another round of the bars and restaurants in my area, handing out CVs. Two days later I had a waitressing job at the Newman Street Tavern in Fitzrovia (and now I have some money to my name).

Inspired by all the amazing food and wine I serve all day, I have since started a blog over on Tumblr called Wine Dine Write – please head on over and check it out. It’s still early days but I have a number of posts in the pipeline, including a review of Mele e Pere in Soho and an account of my first experience in a cutlery-less Eritrean restaurant in Battersea.

Towards the end of May, I entered the Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition with a piece I wrote on women’s land rights in Rwanda. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the short list or the long list (a piece on women’s land rights in Kenya did, however, so clearly my idea was along the right lines!) but I really enjoyed writing the piece and I’m really proud of it. I would like to thank Helen Pankhurst, Lata Narayanaswamy and Vivenie Mugunga for taking the time to talk to me and for sharing their insights – without these amazing women I wouldn’t have had an article at all. I’ve uploaded my article here, should you wish to read it.

I’ve also started interning two days a week at Africa Confidential, a news website and fortnightly newsletter on politics, economics and security issues in Africa. I am really enjoying my placement so far, guided by the insanely knowledgable deputy editor, Andrew Weir.

I’m still looking and applying for more permanent and full-time roles as a reporter or journalist, but I am thankfully in a much happier place than I was a couple of months ago!

Venice, exams, work experience

After my two-week work placement at BBC Newcastle (where my chocolate brownies went down a treat), I went to Venice for a few days with my Mom and Stepdad. We stayed in a lovely hotel on the Grand Canal called the Al Ponte Antico Hotel, where we enjoyed this amazing view of the Rialto Bridge every evening as we sipped apéros on the terrace.

Venice is an absolute wonder of a city. I found myself fascinated with every aspect of it and asking so many questions; where is the nearest hospital and how do they get to it? How do they collect rubbish or deliver big items? What happens when it rains? All things people living on mainland take for granted.

We did so much in Venice but my favourites were the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Dorsoduro. The gallery is Peggy’s old home and features her personal modern art collection and temporary exhibits. There are some beautiful works by Kandinsky and Chagall, as well as some bizarre sculptures in the garden and landing deck on the Grand Canal. The Cimitero di San Michele is a lovely place to visit, despite being a graveyard! It is beautiful and tranquil and nothing like as eerie as say Père Lachaise in Paris. Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Ezra Pound were laid to rest there.

We ate so much seafood! We found an amazing restaurant off the main drag – definitely one not known to tourists but full of Venetians – called the Al Fontego dei Pescatori. The owner and chef is called Lolo and he was so attentive, telling us what was best on the menu that day and recommending some amazing wines. I ate scallop and courgette gnochetti and then a gorgeous tuna steak with a sesame crust.

There are some beautiful islands to the northeast of Venice too, and these are definitely worth a visit to get away from the main hub. Murano is famous for its glass and is absolutely bursting with shops selling jewellery, bowls, glasses and much more. It has become just as touristy as Venice, though, and much of the glass is actually mass-produced in China, but it’s lovely for a stroll around and to look in the independent showrooms.  

Burano, further afield, is absolutely gorgeous. All the houses are painted different colours – supposedly so that fishermen can recognise their homes after a day out on the water.

There is also a sense of sadness, though, about Venice. Many of the buildings are sinking into the water and have become crooked and creaky. It initially adds to the ethereal feel of the place but when you think that in however many years, it may not be possible to live in or visit Venice anymore, it’s really quite sad. But it is absolutely a must-visit city, definitely before it’s too late!Exams

And then after our beautiful holiday in Venice came the horrible mundanity of three weeks of revision and exams. All in all, I think they went well and that’s the MA done and dusted. How time has flown.

Work experience at BBC Radio Newcastle

Tomorrow is my last day of work experience at BBC Radio Newcastle and as my freshly-baked batch of thank you chocolate brownies cool off in the kitchen, I thought I’d take a moment to gather my thoughts and write about my experience. I’m feeling a little sad about leaving. The past two weeks have gone by so quickly; I have done so much, yet I feel like there is still so much I could do there.

For the last few days, I’ve been working on the Jonathan Miles mid-morning show, which has been great fun. The style of the show has allowed me to be more creative than working on the drive-time show, which is very much an extended news programme. The team has so many amazing ideas for future shows that I really want to be a part of developing them and seeing them go out on air.

My first few days at the station were spent going through many online modules, teaching me all about editorial guidelines, health and safety and breach of confidentiality. After all that came the good stuff. I went up to Holy Island in Northumbria with one of the Breakfast show reporters, Fiona Marley Paterson, to see what residents and visitors thought of the big, electronic signs at either end of the causeway placed to display safe crossing times.

I’ve done my fair share of gathering vox pops too, on the Olympics, plain cigarette packaging, and children not playing outdoors enough. I’ve done a decent amount of phone-bashing; following up ideas for stories (some that worked and some that didn’t) and asking guests to come on the airwaves and speak with Alfie and Charlie, the lovely Breakfast show presenters.

And of course, I’ve met some truly lovely people at BBC Newcastle. People have gone out of their way to help me and make sure I’m coping with editing clips on RadioMan and not getting lost in the (at first) terribly confusing ENPS system. (I think I can consider getting used to ENPS one of my biggest achievements from my work placement.) I hope my chocolate brownies go some way to expressing my gratitude for all their help and I really hope I can stay in touch with everyone.

All in all, I have really enjoyed my time with BBC Radio Newcastle and I’m going to miss the buzz of being in a newsroom as breaking news stories come in, as people secure that all-important interview or as a whole day of phone-bashing and cutting audio pays off to form an interesting and entertaining news feature. My work placement with the Kentish Gazette cannot come round quickly enough.