Being a freelance writer is not always sweetness and light. In fact, sometimes it’s tedious and discouraging. While the internet now means a writer who hustles can now reach hundreds, if not thousands of possible outlets for their work, one of the worst things about the open marketplaces is the surge in publications that don’t pay contributors. One of the leaders in this unhappy trend is The Huffington Post, the prodigy of conservative-turned-liberal, Arianna Huffington.
You can’t be a good little liberal without regular visits to the Huffington Post, the wildly successful left-leaning site which was recently sold to AOL for $315 million. Fans of the HuffPo are wondering what the sale will mean to the site’s content.
Huffington sent an e-mail to the site’s contributors and bloggers that read in part:
Together, our companies will have a combined base of 117 million unique U.S. visitors a month — and 250 million around the world — so your posts will have an even bigger impact on the national and global conversation. That’s the only real change you’ll notice — more people reading what you wrote.
What you wrote for nothing that is, because despite the millions of dollars changing hands, one thing that won’t change is the HuffPo’s policy of not paying freelancers as Tim Rutten wrote in the L.A. Times:
Whatever the ultimate impact of AOL‘s $315-million acquisition of the Huffington Post on the new-media landscape, it’s already clear that the merger will push more journalists more deeply into the tragically expanding low-wage sector of our increasingly brutal economy.
The other partner to this dubious arrangement is the Huffington Post, which is a new-media marvel of ingenuity, combining a mastery of editing geared to game the search engines that stimulate Web traffic and overhead that would shame an antebellum plantation. The bulk of the site’s content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they’re devoted. Most of the rest of the content is “aggregated” — which is to say stolen — from the newspapers and television networks that pay journalists to gather and edit the news.
The Huffington Post is a brilliantly packaged product with a particular flair for addressing the cultural and entertainment tastes of its overwhelmingly liberal audience. To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates. Given the fact that its founder, Huffington, reportedly will walk away from this acquisition with a personal profit of as much as $100 million, it makes all the Post’s raging against Wall Street plutocrats, crony capitalism and the Bush and Obama administrations’ insensitivities to the middle class and the unemployed a bit much.
I started out in 1992 writing for alternative and Black newspapers for free. I had no clips and I was a raw, not yet ready, wannabee writer. This is 2011. I’ll be damned if I give away my stuff for free to millionaires who reassure me my work will now be available to an even wider audience. Meanwhile, Arianna gets paid even more and her contributors still have to grab some salt and eat their clips. It’s called the HUFFINGTON Post, but Arianna wasn’t the only person who made the site practical enough to demand over $300 million for it.
Nobody owes me a living. I have to earn it. Well, I’ve earned the right as a damn good writer who’s paid his dues to expect some compensation for my talents. Quality costs and if you place no value on your writing that’s exactly what you’ll be paid for it. I may be a freelancer, but that doesn’t mean I write for free.
Alec Baldwin can afford to give his stuff to the HuffPo for nothing. I need a check. No pay, no play.
I like the HuffPo in some ways, but their business philosophy SUCKS and as it gains in popularity, it’s freelancers who will get hit in the wallet and that doubly SUCKS. Huffington may be a hero to the Left, but she’s also a cheap skate who screws over freelancers.
I could be wrong, but I’ve always believed the relationship between a freelancer and a publication is one of shared interests. THEY are interested in content and WE are interested in being paid to provide it. Huffington took the internet meme that “All content should be free” and applied it to her self-named website.
Maybe when the HuffPo was a start-up Huffington could make the argument she couldn’t pay for content. That argument became null and void this week. She could pay her writers. She just doesn’t want to.
I know God must have loved poor people because he made so many of them and I developed a second career to pay my bills because it was clear freelancing never would. But I will never feel sorry for a rich person like Huffington who rails against the excesses of capitalism on one hand and acts just as bourgeois in her dealings with the workers as any union-busting boss.
I’m not interested in working on Miss Arianna’s plantation.