Pay rates in commercial radio are under intense scrutiny at the moment.
Scourge of BBC management John Myers has turned his fire on the Bauer Media group, who have allegedly been putting wannabe jocks to air on national digital radio stations without paying them anything.
John's not mentioned news as yet - but as someone who's done his damnest to get journalism postgraduates into radio jobs with a measure of success over the past 20 years I thought it could be useful to add a few thoughts about what is, and what isn't, acceptable practice.
First of all, face the facts. I know of no-one at all working in radio news who hasn't spent at least some time on unpaid attachment.
Those who campaign for fully paid news internships are living in cloud cuckoo land.
We need to find better ways of supporting candidates from poorer backgrounds if (and it's a big if) employers really care about diversity, but such schemes will always be the exception to the norm.
For the employers it's a no-brainer. They get sackloads of applications (or whatever the equivalent e-measure is) from people desperate to get in. News teams are overstretched and, in commercial radio, grossly under-appreciated.
In some stations it can be seen as letting the side down to go on holiday, because of the strain it puts on their colleagues - or to be more accurate in many places, colleague.
There are few decent freelancers out there to plug gaps because the long-established postgrad Journalism courses are turning out fewer graduates. Many of those who made a lifestyle choice to embrace the relative freedom of freelancing dived for the safety of a staff job when recession hit - and their number are not being replaced.
I'm running at less than half accredited capacity. That's partly because would-be trainees can't get loans, or don't want more loans on top of £40K+ undergrad debt, and partly because they're scared off by non-stop stories of gloom and doom, usually from hacks past their sell-by date, claiming that journalism is finished and that the only future is 'My Top Ten Cat Selfies' on Buzzfeed. It isn't.
The challenge comes in defining what is 'reasonable' in terms of unpaid work experience.
I have clear criteria. The placement must offer meaningful experience in a newsroom environment. Making tea is part, but only part, of that definition. Getting the editor's dry cleaning fails any rational test.
Trainees should be doing work which adds value to the output of the newsroom, not work which is essential to the running of the newsroom. It's reasonable to use them to get an extra MP, or a vox pop, to comment on Boris running for Parliament, but unreasonable to expect a student to doorstep the tousle-haired tory in person. A placement trainee should never be on desk alone.
The placement must be mentored, with real-time feedback from editors which adds to the trainee's understanding. I'm frightened by the number of places where the workie is let loose with the website or the Twitter password without anyone checking what they write before they press send. Experience without firm guidance reinforces bad habits.
Which brings us to the tricky issue of placement duration.
A week is no good to anyone but schoolkids. It's cultural tourism. By the time a trainee has learned where the loos are and how to log on to the computer it's over. No opportunity to contribute, and a big drain on staff time doing basic training (if any is offered).
A fortnight is not untypical, but again offers a trainee little chance to show much flair.
It's week three when my experience suggests a good placement student will rise above the mechanical functions expected of them and begin to offer original ideas. A month fits the production schedules of some network programmes and is normally the maximum I would expect a student to offer unpaid. I am of course delighted if 3 or 4 weeks of experience morphs seamlessly into paid work. The most I've ever sanctioned is 6 weeks in any one newsroom.
I have been asked to provide students for 3 or 6 month (unpaid) 'internships', or open-ended day release. Such arrangements, to me, go beyond anything that can be considered reasonable - unless the student is on a sandwich course with a period in industry a formal part of their degree.
It should go without saying (but doesn't) that placement students receive out of pocket expenses when they're sent out on a story. If they use their own cars, now increasingly a hiring requirement for freelancers, that must include mileage.
And what about the transition into work? For those going into a station where they've not been on placement before, but where they are being considered for a job, I've always believed it's absolutely fair to ask the trainee to work an 'evaluation shift' (c) Richard Horsman 1993.
They do a day, or at most two, unpaid. Then the editor decides. More than that, for a qualified trainee at the end of their course, is exploitation.
My first salary in Pennine Radio's newsroom was a smidgen over eight grand a year - in 1985. An hourly rate of about £4.50. I know of a a main-market station right now offering newly-qualified freelancers £30 for a 6-hour shift. You do the maths.
No-one goes into radio news to get rich.
Radio stations will always get by on low salaries and a lot of goodwill because creative, lively people really want to work with others like themselves in a vibrant and stimulating atmosphere. There's always been a tradeoff between enthusiasm and exploitation, but the balance has shifted too far in the employers' favour.