After shaming, Time Warner does the right thing by minority kids

Time Warner — helping minority students or minority pols?
Illustration by Sylvan Migdal

Media giant Time Warner has abandoned a politically questionable internship requirement — and extended the program deadline — in the wake of criticism from students and mentors in Brooklyn.

For months, the company’s “Connect a Million Minds” internship included the unusual demand that applicants “provide a letter of recommendation from a member of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.”

Critics slammed the company for unnecessarily politicizing a simple search for talented minority kids by giving them “a hard lesson in cronyism” — and months after the program launched, not a single Brooklynite had applied to meet the March 1 deadline.

It’s no wonder. A Brooklyn Paper investigation revealed that members of the minority caucus either didn’t know about their role in the process or declined to give letters of recommendations to students who were not connected in some way.

“We don’t give letters to people we don’t know,” said Demecia Wooten-Irizarry, chief of staff for Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D–Bushwick).

A staffer for Assemblyman Nick Perry (D–Flatbush) added, “It helps if we know their parents.”

The Brooklyn Paper report also raised questions about the company’s ethics, finding that Time Warner had aggressively lobbied Albany lawmakers about “cable television matters” at the same year it launched the program.

Lawmakers at the time were reviewing whether New York should ditch a contract with a competing telecommunications company called MA/COM that had won a $2-billion contract with the state. The lobbying apparently paid off: The state cancelled the contract in January, 2009.

A Time Warner spokeswoman said the company initially wanted a letter from the politicians, “as a way of helping to spread the word.”

But after our report, the company ditched the requirement, pulling it from the “eligibility” section of its online application, and scrapping a downloadable form that has been posted on its website for months.

“We originally listed the letter of recommendation as a requirement based on our partnership with the caucus, but received feedback that these requirements might be too limiting, so we are shifting them to a ‘nice to have’ instead of a ‘must have’ requirement,’” said company spokeswoman Suzanne Giuliani.

Sen. Eric Adams (D–Park Slope), who said the program has accessibility flaws, was pleased. “It’s commendable that Time Warner has done this. If a program has impediments they should be removed.”

The change only half-satisfied one Brooklyn mentor, whose Brooklyn Tech protégé was disheartened. He said the company should now make a “major effort to publicize the program” and do right by students “who saw the original application form and gave up.”

“What is Time Warner doing to make sure these students [know] that they don’t have to jump through this hoop any more?” he wrote in an e-mail.

“It’s obvious that Time Warner changed the requirement only because its actions were exposed by The Brooklyn Paper. I would be much happier if it issued a statement recognizing that what it did was a cynical ploy to curry favor with politicians and that it won’t happen again.”

Giuliani said she would “look into” the ways in which the company plans to publicize the new requirements.

For now, the extended deadline will suffice. The two-month paid internship is open to math, science and technology students who are pursuing higher education and have a 2.8 GPA or higher.

To apply, visit www.timewarnercable.com/corporate/about/careers, then search “location,” and select “New York, NY.” Under “position type,” select “intern.” Deadline is March 31.