When I agreed to take part in the Huffington Post's Divorce Page event, "The Moment I Knew," I was so focused on getting over my fears about publicly writing about my divorce, I neglected to focus on the larger issue of The Huffington Post and what it means for writers.
Several of you pointed out the current boycott of the site, by writers who object to the HuffPo's policy of not paying it's contributors -- made particularly outrageous, to some, by founder Arianna Huffington's cashing out for a cool three hundred million a few months ago. (One unpaid writer has initiated a class-action suit to the tune of $105M.) Others of you have found that blogging for The Huffington Post does actually pay the dividends it promises: it provides a platform and a large audience that gives writers a platform and wide exposure that materially helps their careers.
What do you think? Inquiring minds would really like to know!
This is a tough one--exposure vs pay. I guess this is one of the problems that the internet poses at the moment. While people still believe that information online should be free, writers, not publishers, will be the losers. The Huffington Post is by no means the only publisher to treat its authors with such disregard for their expertise. There are many papers, ones that I've written for here in Australia, who do not baulk at paying $25 for feature stories. And in my early days, I was happy to accept such conditions. Yeah, sure, they did lead to greater exposure. But whether you're writing one $25 article a week or twenty, it's still only $25 an article and any self-respecting newbie knows just how much work goes into them.
How does a serious news publication expect to get quality for nothing? Initially there is the buzz that comes from seeing your name, but anyone who has done anything for nothing, or for very little, knows that, after a while, the buzz is drowned out by the voice inside your head that says, "how can I do this faster, with less research and still get away with pumping out a decent story?"
Why doesn't Huffpo do what everyone else seems to be doing and just get someone on e-lance to bid a couple of bucks to write an article? What they're doing is no different.
I think that the entire matter is exacerbated by the sale of the site for $300mill. Give something back to the people who made you, Ariana. It'll make you feel better at night. Really, it will.
While I think that the lawsuit has no merit, I do think something needs to change in the area of compensating writers. This problem existed long before there were online markets, but it's even worse now. I've been published online several times, but never once compensated for it. But if we boycott all the markets that don't pay, we may well be writing for no one. So what's better? Being paid and hardly ever getting published? Or not being paid, and getting plenty of "work"?
Let's face it, few of us get the kind of exposure that writing for the Huffington Post or the Daily Kos brings. We're stuck in the no man's land of giving out free content in the hopes of furthering our careers in some vague way. It just hardly ever happens, not for most of us. So what do we have to lose--or gain--if we refuse to write for non-paying markets?
The problem with boycotts is, they hardly ever work unless you get so many people involved that it negatively impacts the entity you're boycotting. In this case, there are too many writers who would still write for HuffPo for this boycott to have the desired effect. The publicity, however, is another thing.
It might seem like biting that hand that feeds (if not pays) us, but writers should continue to bitch and moan about not getting paid, even if they themselves write for nothing. It's a sad reality, but many people don't even consider themselves or others to be "real" writers if they're not getting paid for their work. Maybe it's that mentality that we need to change.
Are we stronger solo or en masse? Do we owe each other support, or do we owe ourselves the freedom to do what we decide is best for our individual careers? What happens to a commerce-based society that decides its artists aren't worth pay?
A related announcement: The recent New York Times move to charge on-line readers for content. This reads to me as one gigantic positive swerve toward creating public awareness that excellent writing / journalism comes at a price. Part of that price is ensuring the bodies behind the words can eat.
When I began dirtcakes, my literary journal, one of my "no discussion" points was including contributor payments in my budget. Oddly, that is one of the decisions I've had to defend most frequently to staff and financiers. "Most literary magazines don't pay. We could put out more issues more frequently." I'm developing a graceful smile to go with my "no discussion" refrain.
Horray for a lit that pays writers!
Most little lits don't pay, not because the refuse to, but because they simply don't have the resources. Many "pay what/when they can," which isn't often and isn't much, but acknowledges that their journal doesn't exist without the writers. A far cry from the attitude that "we make the only money around here--how dare you think your work has value beyond 'exposure,' how dare you expect us to share once we become profitable." Isn't that precious 'exposure' suppossed to be so that others will pay for your writing? Why does Huff get to say others should pick up the tab while she gobbles profits?
The lawsuit (whose merits are a matter for the courts to decide) isn't about greedy writers. (Anyone who thinks greed has anything to do with choosing to be a writer never tried to make a living doing it.) It's a response to Huff's insulting view that the peons who create content don't deserve to make a living doing it--that all revenue should go into corporate pockets. In our capitalist society, lawsuits bring change. Large corporations nearly always have had to be forced into making safer products, paying a living wage, operating honorably, by lawsuits that made it more expensive to continue refusing to do the right thing.
It's true that HuffPo owes its writers, because without content how would it have gotten "big" enough for AOL to want to buy it? So ultimately it's HuffPo that gets the exposure more than any of the writers. Of the writers who have benefited from the exposure, I bet none of them have cashed in like Huffington did!Writers should start demanding payment for their work, especially when they're dealing with a financial success like HuffPo. It will be interesting to see if Huffington starts paying its writers in the future.
Thanks for posting this Kamy! I enjoyed reading the comments by other writers here.
One would expect a quality portal like the Huffington Post or AOL to pay for quality work it publishes and not spout some BS about platform and audience. That's ethics. And if they aren't, then I hope that these protests will get them to change their policy and if it doesn't then the class action suit by Tasini surely will.
I disagree with the statement that you aren't happy with the terms then don't write for them. This is like IBM saying we are IBM. Once you work for us (for free) you will get a job anywhere in any company of your choice. By and large that would be correct, but does it make it right? ethical? So why is wriitng so different? People are trying to make a living just like in corporates, in supermarkets, in construction.... But if entities of such stature and impact fomulate policies that prey on the desperation of talented people just trying to make a living, then they should be forced to reconsider.
Sadly, most times social, political, economic change is brought about by some extreme action whether it is boycott or a class action suit, or a fast to death. Anything to make the policy makers sit up, take notice and ACT.