Bay Guardian's 'Free Issue' Leaves Out Its Favorite Category: Free Editorial Labor

Categories: Media

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An intern in search of a paycheck?

Normally, we give the San Francisco Bay Guardian a hard time about their newspaper, which we find to be more of a left-wing propaganda sheet full of regurgitated stories and knee-jerk diatribes. But we have to say, this week's "The Free Issue" is likely quite informative. We didn't read it or anything, but if anybody's going to tell you how to get stuff for free, it should absolutely be the San Francisco Bay Guardian

After all -- with not much of a budget to speak of -- the Guardian and its owners have become masters at getting stuff for free. On the masthead, we count 13 unpaid interns at the Guardian these days, and it's been that way for quite some time.

"We're helping young people by giving them vocational training from expert editors and reporters," Guardian editor and publisher Bruce Brugmann told SF Weekly in 2007. "It's a wonderful opportunity for them."

But it's also a wonderful opportunity for the Guardian, of course, which gets its pages filled with content generated at no cost whatsoever. Take, "The Free Issue," itself, for example. A quick tally revealed that five of the items in the front of the book were created by staff, and five were created by interns. But before equating that about half of the content was produced by unpaid interns, we have to factor in four more items -- two that contain no byline, and two more that were written by Johnny Funcheap and Broke-Ass Stuart, who both maintain Web sites about how to live cheaply in San Francisco.

Funcheap refused to say whether or not he was paid for his contribution. "Uh, well, that's personal and private," he said. Broke-Ass Stuart said that he was in fact compensated for his column on free things in San Francisco. When we e-mailed him to clarify if he was monetarily compensated, he replied "Maybe :)"

Regardless, that's a pretty big chunk of editorial coming in free. And who are these interns, anyway? Why do they do it? We checked out a couple of their Facebook profiles. In intern Rachel Buhner's profile picture, she's finishing off a beer. It's impossible to know whether Buhner borrowed money from her parents for that beer, or if she had to steal it while its rightful owner was in the bathroom. Either way, we hope it temporarily relieved the pain of working unpaid.

Similarly, intern Amy Monroe hoists an empty wine glass in her Facebook picture. But intern Laura Swanbeck's page, and her highlighted quote in particular, is the most telling: "A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom." Roald Dahl apparently once said that.

If you work for the Guardian, Dahl is absolutely right. Except for the freedom part.    

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