When I was looking for my first internship some 14 years ago I knew I needed to have a paid position. I could not afford to work for free. As it was I was using student loans to cover a lot of expenses while in school - so not being paid would have meant not being able to take the spot.
Today I found an article at the Poynter Institute website that talks about the practice, and how in some states there have been crackdowns on the practice due to labor laws. Others argue that it is unfair as only people who already have the money to support themselves can afford to have the experience. This is somewhat like only allowing rich people to go to school from one viewpoint. From the opposing view, rich people almost always enjoy the benefits of living in more affluent neighborhoods and attending better funded public schools - sometimes having the option of private schools - and are more able to handle the costs of going to college. We are a capitalistic society after all - so why can't those who have "earned" more get the rewards? (I ask playing devil's advocate)
It may all end as a moot point - newspaper's are soon going to be unpaid jobs for everybody if new profit models cannot be worked out. Then only the rich who can afford to do journalism as a hobby will be reporting on our society. How balanced will that take on the world be?
In my introduction to Journalism class I do not tell students of the bright future careers ahead of them in newspapers. I tell them this is the process of reporting the news, understand it so you can decode it and get the information you need.
Unpaid internships? The publisher and the EIC and the shareholders get paid. I would not volunteer to work at McDonald's in an unpaid capacity - they want a person's time and effort they need to compensate them with more than just by-lines. A by-line and a buck will buy you a cup of coffee at McD's. The only person that the by-line without the cash will matter to is your mother who will say she is proud of you (as she loans you the money you should have gotten paid for by the news organization).