Alec Dudson founded Intern magazine after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013. We chat to him about launching a startup, the challenges of print, and the importance of fighting the culture of unpaid work in the creative industries.

Tell me a bit about your role as editor-in-chief and founder at Intern magazine — what does it involve day-to-day?

For a long time, I didn’t really take stock of what the role really comprised, it was mostly a case of just getting done whatever needed to be done. I think that’s the case with a lot of startup businesses, and it’s only when you’re looking to expand that you have to really define the role so that you can delegate and recruit effectively. In summary, it can involve anything from editorial work, to strategy, sales, promotion, project management, workshops and events. Writing out the 'What I Do' list below was a really useful exercise, particularly as amidst all of those tasks it can be really hard to prioritise and effectively manage your time while staying on track. 

What I Do
Alec's 'What I Do' list

"I wanted to empower young creative people to make well-informed career decisions."

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Issue Four, Intern magazine

What led to you setting up your own magazine on this subject, and what was your vision when launching?

Primarily, I wanted to empower young creative people to make well-informed career decisions. At the time there was no platform for an open and frank discussion about internships, so it felt imperative to build one. The other aim was to prove — beyond any reasonable doubt — that these young people who for the most part worked for free, were making work that was easily of a standard that should demand a fee. Everyone commissioned by Intern since its inception has been paid. 

I think it’s embarrassing that some of the publications that remain leading ‘youth culture’ titles exploit the same people that they claim to represent. “There’s no pay, but think about the exposure,” they say. It’s not good enough. If someone is prepared to publish your work, it’s because you’re adding value to their brand. If you’re adding value, then for me, there’s no question that you should be paid for that.

"If someone is prepared to publish your work, it’s because you’re adding value to their brand. If you’re adding value, then for me, there’s no question that you should be paid for that."

Issue Three, Intern magazine

What were the biggest challenges you faced in setting up your own magazine?

Oh there were plenty. Crucially though, it’s finance. The process of making the mag is the fun bit. You can get gloriously obsessed with details and make something that’s incredibly considered and meaningful, but ultimately, if you can’t raise the cash to cover the production costs and come out of it with a profit, then it becomes increasingly difficult to run a magazine over an extended period of time. After four issues I decided that it was time for us to take a hiatus from print — the overheads were just too crazy and the audience that we can reach online right now is bigger. My mission is still to empower young creative people, and by moving our editorial online I can commission more young people, tell more stories, and have those read by a bigger audience. So, as painful as it is to walk away from print, I’m over it.

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Issue Four, Intern magazine

For others setting up their own publication for the first time, why is it so important to create an effective business plan?

It’s essential. I just about made it on my really basic business plan, but spending a little more time working on that before starting out would have helped. That said, having never run a business before this, the experience has been incredibly valuable on a personal level. I’ve learned how to solve problems as they’ve arisen, which — while not always the most efficient way to operate — has meant that I understand all manner of processes and obstacles that I’d never have considered before. There’s a lot of great, often free, resources out there for startup businesses and for publishers. I’d encourage anyone who is thinking of starting a publication to really do their research beforehand and crucially ask themselves: “does this really need to be in print?” 

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Feature from Issue Four of Intern Magazine

How, if at all, do you think the world of internships and unpaid work has changed since you first began working on the topic? Do you see a better future for young creatives wanting to intern?

Things are changing. Not as quickly as I’d like, but issues of pay and equality are a more consistent part of the conversation, so I’m proud of the work we’ve done — but I'm determined to keep going. Unpaid internships remain a huge problem and for the most part are illegal, it’s only the lack of enforcement of the law that keeps them coming. I don’t think governments are going to pour time and resources into this issue any time soon though, so educating young people remains my strategy. If you know the value that you bring to a company and are prepared to turn down exploitative roles (which I know can be hard), then there are really good internships, junior positions and schemes where you’ll be paid for your time and learn a lot. They do exist, but you’ve got to be really determined and fight for them. 

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Issue Two, Intern magazine

After meeting and working with so many young creatives, what is the best advice you would now give to others?

Understand the value that you bring to any given situation. If you agree to work unpaid, you’re telling your ‘employer’ that you don’t appreciate or acknowledge that value. /

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Issue Three, Intern Magazine
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Issue Three, Intern magazine


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