Girish Gupta

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Malcolm Coles: Invoicing Independent intern interviewed over internet. Interesting insights.
Nov. 25, 2010

Published by Malcolm Coles

Depending on your point of view, Girish Gupta is an idiot or is standing up for workers’ rights. Girish is the journalist who did two weeks’ work experience at the Independent – and then invoiced them when he decided what he’d done was closer to work than work experience. The Indy didn’t take kindly to this …

You can read the email exchange here, and the story was picked up by Jon Slattery and Fleet Street Blues.

Having tweeted a supportive tweet, I was surprised by how many people disagreed with me. So I asked Girish a few questions to uncover more about what happened. Here’s what he said (my questions are in bold):

It’s been a tough morning! The topic seems to be incredibly divisive. Some people are really for me doing this, think it’s an important step, see me as a gutsy journalist (which a journalist should be!) and so on. While others have really not been impressed. I have been abused fairly harshly on Twitter for it.

It’s a difficult one. I know people aren’t going to like it but I still think it’s right. I’m not doing it for the legal reasons or for £400! That’s why I wanted to make it public.

You wrote the blog post in September – why’s it blown up today?!
I wrote the post in September and was in two minds about making it public, partly while HMRC were still investigating, but more importantly just as I wasn’t sure of the consequences for me. Lots of groups have been in touch since it was made semi-public when I discussed it with certain interning groups at the time of the emails.

From that the BBC (well Tiger Aspect on behalf of BBC), NUJ and others got in touch. The lady from the NUJ suggested Jon Slattery may be interested so I emailed him yesterday. He blogged about it last night and so it’s blown up today.

Some people have said you knew what you were getting into. Did you have a contract or a letter or anything that set out what you would be expected to do while there? Did you sign anything?
Nothing was signed, nor was there a contract. It was just an email that, yes, uses the word ‘unpaid’. I was happy to go ahead. I don’t contend that.

To what extend did the work experience you did exceed what you were expecting (EG were you expecting to be published before you started)?
I’d had work experiences at the Guardian, Reuters and Times beforehand, all of which I’d had work published by, so, yes, I would have been disappointed not to be published.

But I was also hoping for some support rather than just plonking me on a desk and leaving me to my own devices.

It was only when I was getting sick of that, that I pitched to the news desk the Ian Tomlinson memorial event taking place I and suggested I go down.

They were clearly pleased with my copy from that and from then I pitched other stories and was given stories to look into. Work experience is different to work, however, as with work experience, you expect some guidance and not just to be doing the job of the guy next to you, a staff journalist.

When they offered to publish what you’d written, what was your reaction at the time? Did you feel that you were doing work rather than experience?
Well it’s nice being published but the novelty had worn off by then.

I did after the first piece feel that I was just doing work. This is in such stark contrast to the other places I worked at where the novelty factor may have been the same, but I felt that I’d learnt a lot from the process too, with subeditors guiding me through their edits and so on.

If they’d said they couldn’t publish your work because of the NMW issue, what do you think you would have felt?
If they’d have said, “That’s great but we can’t use it because we’re not paying you and the law requires us to pay NMW,” then I’d have thought it is a very a tight organisation that can’t afford such a small amount for work it wants to publish.

I do understand that my ‘stunt’ as someone unflatteringly called it on Twitter will make it harder for people to get work experience and that, yes, is a problem.

But that it the fault of the industry and the structures it has in place. Like I say, the other papers I have worked at have been fantastic and I would never feel the need to demand payment.

Did they pay you anything EG expenses?
No expenses, not even when I was asked to go to Bank to cover the Ian Tomlinson memorial. I know it’s only the cost of a Travelcard but that’s not the point. All other work experiences paid expenses, and quite generously actually.

Were you aware of the National Minimum Wage legislation at the time of the work experience?
No. I was not aware at all of any legislation. I should have been. Obviously I knew of the NMW Act but didn’t think to apply it to what I was doing at all.

What made you decide to send the invoice and then keep pursuing it?
I think Adam Leigh’s rudeness nudged me to send the invoice and carry on with it more than anything!

But more seriously, I think it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with and that seemed a good way of doing that. It’s all well and good to go into it when I’m a paid-up staff journalist one day but it has little impact then.

How did it turn out – the last email on your blog is from August?
HMRC are investigating. I last spoke with them a week or two ago and they are sending people in apparently.

Do you think it’s harmed your future career at all?
I don’t know what journalists and editors who both do and don’t know me are thinking about the whole thing. I would hope they would see that I was standing up for something I thought was wrong and whether they agree or not, they would admire that, especially in journalism.

Someone commented today that they’d see me as a ‘troublemaker’. Surely that is what every journalist should be. But they might just think I’m not worth their time.

What’s your overall view of how the newspaper industry approaches work experience / internships?
It needs structure. It needs a structure whereby both parties know what they’re going to get out of it, in terms of what they will learn, what they will publish etc, and also what will be paid.

I think a freelance rate for work produced is fair BUT I do appreciate that sometimes it can be more work for a (staff) journalist to have an intern shadow them and so that should also be discussed.

Structure and discussion is what’s needed, not in a legal sense necessarily, but just some idea of what’s going to be happening. This has taken place at all my other work experiences.

Interesting replies. I’m still supportive. What do you think?




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