When Internships Are the Stuff of Reality Shows

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I work in a field so competitive that few would consider me weird for having slogged through four internships before graduation. All involved little or no pay, soul-deadening work, and absolutely not one iota of glamour.

So you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I learned today that one of my lame internships is going to be a reality show.

Come Jan. 7, MTV will launch “I’m With Rolling Stone,” a reality show about six interns vying for a job at the music magazine. “The Rolling Stone reality show–it’s for real!” crows the mag’s web site. RS has already set up a blog for the interns to display their presumably vast talents, on which readers/viewers can currently view cute Q&As with each contestant. (I’m already rooting against the smirking blonde.)

That’s right: I was a Rolling Stone intern, circa 1992. And believe you me, there was no blog to showcase our Hunter S. Thompson plagiary. There was no cheesecake promotional photo of us splashed on Jossip.com. None of my fellow interns looked like Kurt Cobain, and he wasn’t even dead yet.

Internships are changing, as I chronicled on Time.com in September (“The New World of Internships”). Many involve real, consequential and stimulating work. Employers assign enthusiastic staffers to act as mentors. Some even pay.

And at least one internship is apparently so fascinating that it warrants a whole camera crew from MTV.

In the fall of 1991, I applied for an internship at Rolling Stone. I was fresh from another crappy internship at an advertising trade magazine that summer, and clearly I am either an optimist or a very slow learner. Unlike the ad mag, RS didn’t pay, and would require schlepping two days a week from my college in New Jersey. Unlike every college student in America, I could care less about music; I had never heard of Lou Reed and was only vaguely aware of the Chili Peppers. Truth be told, I only applied to impress a boy.

After sending a blind resume, I was called in for an interview. The slick offices in midtown Manhattan wowed me. Its corridors were lined with original artwork of rock legends. The editorial assistant who would be my boss–a petite redhead with a pixie cut and granny glasses–led me to a sculpture and motioned for me to sit on it.

The assistant didn’t crack a smile at any of my jokes. The interview lasted about 10 minutes. So I was surprised when she called a week later and told me when I would start.

Here’s what I did at my Rolling Stone internship. I opened letters from readers and responded to the sane ones, like those requesting a copy of a certain back issue, and passed along the insane ones, like the ones demanding personal pitch meetings with Jann Wenner. I sorted reporting notes by freelance writers and filed them into giant metal cabinets. My favorite job was sorting books in the library, where I could crib poetry to further impress said boy.

My only contact with real staff was when a nice writer named Alan Light told me about his college thesis at Yale, which had been about the Beastie Boys (he later became editor of Spin).

I glimpsed Wenner, the legendary editor of Rolling Stone, a couple of times, when he stalked past to his huge corner office. None of us interns ever got an introduction, let alone an audience. He was very tan and kind of short.

You can’t really blame the employer. The labor of interns was free and plentiful. Our compensation, they could argue, was the line on our resumes that would read: “EXPERIENCE: ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE.” I’m sure it landed me at least one interview in the real world, if not the boy.

I’m setting up my Time Warner DVR now for “I’m From Rolling Stone.” I’m a sucker for reality shows, but one about a job I once held? Shoot. I can’t wait to see how they make filing cool.