Nate Thayer Bites the Hand That Doesn’t Feed

Mr. Thayer doesn’t do freebies.

The sad story of one Mr. Nate Thayer and his experiences with The Atlantic magazine will sound very familiar to any freelance writer whose hopes of writing for a major, high-profile publication were dashed by the sad reality of learning they weren’t going to be paid for doing so.

Thayer’s somewhat tense exchange  with an editor of The Atlantic went viral and provided an example of the freelancer’s frustration in finding paying markets for their work.   Thayer published the entire correspondence on his blog.

Thayer: Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball  diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.

The Atlantic: Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.

Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!

Thayer:  I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them. Let me know if you have perhaps mispoken.

You don’t give your magazine away, so why should you expect writers to give you their work for free?

She hadn’t misspoken and Thayer went nuclear on The Atlantic after the editor-in-chief, James Bennett said in a statement,  “The case involving Nate Thayer is unusual. We did not ask him to report and write an original piece for us, but we did ask if he’d be interested in posting a condensed version of an article he had already published elsewhere, which we would have done with full credit to the original publisher. We rarely do this outside our established partnerships, but we were enthusiastic about bringing Thayer’s work to a larger audience — an outcome, I guess, we have now, backhandedly, achieved. We’re sorry we offended him.”

For their part The Atlantic says Thayer did not inform them he would be publishing the entire correspondence.   Thayer’s response to New York magazine was both more colorful and far more profane.

I was under the assumption that such practices were abolished when the [13th] amendment to the Constitution was ratified,” he said. “I don’t need the exposure. What I need is to pay my fucking rent. Exposure doesn’t feed my fucking children. Fuck that!” Thayer said adding he could  not afford to go online . “I actually stick my fucking computer out the window to use the neighbor’s Internet connection. I simply can’t make a fucking living.”

As a freelancer myself, my sympathies are decidedly with Mr. Thayer.  However, I don’t know if I would have disclosed and published the exchange with the editor.   Perhaps Thayer will find more paying opportunities coming his way as a result of going public with his beef, but I’d bet there will be as many editors who will lose his address because he aired his grievance in this way.   There is a reason you don’t crap where you eat.

Anyone who has been a freelancer for any length of time knows how it feels like you’re beating your brains out in hopes to land a paying gig.   Whether Thayer has enhanced or lessened his chances remains to be seen.    Every writer who places a value on their work wants to get paid for it.  But does publicly trashing a magazine help your chances?

Probably not, but  Thayer is my new, if slightly tarnished, hero! He said in print what I know by heart.   I would sooner line the walls of a gas station men’s room with my writings than to give them to a millionaire like Arianna Huffington  who can afford to pay me, but won’t.

The hell with exposure. I can’t EAT with “exposure” and I can’t pay my BILLS with “exposure.” The idea that I should give away my stuff for free is ridiculous. Unless you and I are friends or we have some sort of arrangement, I could see doing freebies, but otherwise, I’m no different than any other professionals and PROFESSIONALS get paid!

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Like Cornbread Soaked in Olive Oil: When the Black Journalists Met the Greek Oprah.

Queen Arianna invites Black journalists to join her empire.

It occurred to me though I wrote about going to the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Philadelphia I never said anything about actually attending the convention.  Setting all the Al Sharpton drama aside, it’s worth getting into.

As much as it will distress the convention officials we didn’t stay at the official convention hotel, the Philadelphia Marriott as it was priced a bit out of our budget and since nobody pays my way to these gatherings of the tribe but me, what’s out of our budget is always a major consideration.

We stayed at The Independent, a smaller boutique hotel minus all the trappings of a major chain (no valet service, no on site gym, no parking garage and no hotel bar), but without the jacked-up prices you get for those luxuries.  The Independent was clean, comfortable and austere.  I wanted something close to the convention site because in its sprawling Center City area Philadelphia is a walking city.

The first full day of the convention kicked off with an opening ceremony and this year’s featured an address from Attorney General Eric Holder followed by a plenary session dubbed “A Conversation with Arianna Huffington,” a title that proved misleading.  It was more of a monologue than a dialogue.

Anyone who has followed this blog knows I have issues with the president and editor of The Huffington Post.  Mostly because she’s a cheap exploiter of writers and journalists who reeks of hypocrisy even while she pumps out a pseudo progressive political slant uncomfortably juxtaposed with a heavy dose of brainless celebrity worship.

Waiting for me at the hotel was a box of flyers from the The Newspaper Guild and the National Writers Union I was going to distribute at the convention asking Huffington to create a business model that promotes paying the HuffPo’s unpaid writers, photographers, cartoonists and other contributors.   Queen Arianna has shown no interest in channeling any of the $315 million AOL coughed up to buy the HuffPo into the pockets of those whose labor made the news aggregator valuable in the first place.

That morning I arrived at the cavernous Philadelphia Convention Center and left the flyers in key spots where others could find them including outside of the main ballroom where Huffington was scheduled to appear.  Representatives of the Newspaper Guild showed up to hand out more information to the attendees as well.  Many NABJ members have no idea of how sketchy Queen Arianna’s journalism practices are.

My anticipation was instead of facing questions from an audience of experienced journalists, Huffington would duck the inquiries about her wretched labor questions.   That anticipation was  confirmed.  Huffington only submitted to a few Twitter questions asked by moderator Lester Holt.  No live questioning from the floor.  That limited the scope of questions to what could be fitted into 140 characters and there was no chance to ask follow-up questions.  Queen Arianna had made sure she had a built-in escape hatch and NABJ apparently agreed to the kid gloves treatment.

Huffington fielded one question about her no pay for play practices and she blandly deflected the criticism by boasting the HuffPo has 1,300 paid staffers and nobody forces anyone to write for them.  She stuck to her standard line how contributing to the HuffPo provides a “platform” for aspiring writers, journalists and bloggers.

“People can choose to participate in the platform, if they have something they want to write that requires wider distribution, or not to participate in the platform,” Huffington said. “We are not dependent on them.”

I call bull.  Huffington built her business on the backs of the  unpaid writers she now claims she isn’t dependent upon.  Her background is one of a status-seeking socialite, not a crusading publisher.

Huffington asked her Black staffers in the audience to stand up. One of her newest hires is Christina Norman, the former CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network, who was ousted from her position by Oprah.  Norman, who will lead the HuffPo Black Voices division is considered a major “get” by Huffington whose aspiration of creating a similar media empire lays bare her ambitions of becoming the Greek Oprah.

The two most powerful women in the media battle for global supremacy.

Huffington’s pretense as a progressive crusader is undercut by her overbearing superiority complex, barely concealed disdain for working people and phony aristocratic bearing which is never too far from swaggering into view.  Huffington is one of the most powerful women in the world and a media mogul.   She has a way to go before she becomes the universal brand that Oprah is, but don’t doubt her desire to hold the crown of Queen of All Media exclusively for herself.  She has the ambition and has already demonstrated the ruthlessness.

It was a mistake in the first place to invite a poseur and exploiter like Huffington to speak at NABJ’s convention.  What she does is the antithesis of serious journalism.  To allow her to do nothing more but announce the HuffPo was seeking contributors (unpaid,  of course) to the newly revamped AOL Black Voices site was an insult.

Attorney General Holder was left with the thankless task of being the warm-up act for Queen Arianna and brought with him a videotaped greeting to NABJ from President Obama.  Otherwise, the news value of the opening ceremony was pretty much nil except for former NBC Universal chief diversity officer Paula Madison pledging $100,000 to support the 2012 NABJ convention in New Orleans.

Madison, whose family holdings include the Africa Channel and the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks, was motivated by her wish to support NABJ which will be competing with the UNITY 2012 convention in Las Vegas for sponsors and attendees.   NABJ split from the UNITY coalition of minority journalism organizations over differences in finances, accountability and respect.    The fallout from this messy divorce hung over the entire convention and had prompted the New York Times to announce they would be attending the UNITY gathering instead of NABJ next  year.

Madison told the audience, “To every NABJ member who is wavering whether to make a choice between UNITY and NABJ, let me just say to you: If you are three blocks down the street, and folks can’t see your gender, they can see your skin color.”

The message was clear.  UNITY is nice, but you’re first, foremost and always Black and that precludes fanciful notions of reaching across the table to other groups of color.

“No matter how you define yourself, you are defined by the rest of the world as black,” Madison said.

The only decision I’ve made about NABJ in N’awlins or UNITY in Vegas is I don’t see myself in either place next summer.  Attending these conventions are expensive propositions when you’re footing the bills to be there.   The story of why NABJ split from UNITY is a long and winding road that probably needs its own post, but it comes down to the usual reasons.  Money, power and respect and the NABJ board felt it was getting enough of any of the three from UNITY.

More about that in Part 2 and how that messy separation turned what should have been a routine one-hour board meeting into a three-hour soul-searching of what NABJ stands for and where its priorities should be.

NABJ officials join Arianna in cheesin' for the camera

Queen Arianna’s Reign of Error

The Queen of All Media on her throne.

When Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed King of All Media, took his dirty mind and love of lesbians, dwarfs and bigots with him when he abandoned terrestrial radio for satellite and millions of dollars I was among the masses of loyal listeners he left behind.

For  years I had woken up in the morning to listen to, get a laugh from and more than a few times get pissed off at Howard’s show.  I recognized the smutty and sophomoric nature of the program, but at least it wasn’t boring.  I vividly recall Howard and his sidekick Robin Quivers trying to make sense of what was happening on the morning of September 11, 2001and trying hard not to give into the panic.

Now that Howard has gone his way and I have gone mine, I’ve pretty much forgotten he exists.  I was flipping channels the other night and there he was yakking it up with that horribly boring Piers Morgan on CNN.  What I was struck by in the few moments I lingered before clicking away was how much Howard sounded and looked the same as he did when he signed off in 2005 and how little I cared any more.

The point is (and I do have one) is no matter how much you enjoy something, the time eventually comes when you leave it behind or it changes in such a way you leave it behind.  We form a relationship, a bond with our favorite musicians, authors, sports figures, TV shows and magazines.   When they change so drastically we no longer know what it was we liked about them in the first place we either live with the change or we move on.

That’s where I’m at with Arianna Huffington and her publication, The Huffington Post.  When I learned the repellent Andrew Breitbart, the far-right propagandist, character assassin and racist manipulator of the Shirley Sherrod incident was joining the supposedly “progressive” Huffington Post as a contributor, that was when it was time to say, “check, please.”  Any publication that wants to associate itself with a maggot like Breitbart is not a publication I want anything to do with.

I closed my account with The Huffington Post and deleted the site from my browser’s bookmarks.  I won’t hotlink to any more stories on the HuffPo and will do my best to ignore the site as much as humanly possible.  There are plenty of other sites that do politics, entertainment and news a lot better and doesn’t fuck over its writers in the process.

These days there are more sites that look like The Huffington Post than the New York Times.  Founded just six years ago, the HuffPo has created the template for a successful news site:  aggregate (or “borrow”) your content from other publications, don’t pay your contributors but assure them thousands of readers are eagerly devouring your writing and endlessly promote yourself as a liberal lion as you sit down with the other heavy hitters on the Sunday talk shows.

And it worked.  The downside is it’s a model built upon the sweat and toil of others and the final product treats empty entertainment the same as important news.

Arianna Huffington is not a liberal.

She’s an opportunist who will lie down even with sleazy race-baiting bastards like Andrew Breitbart.

Birds of a feather crap on journalism together

Actions (and acquisitions) have consequences.

Queen Arianna maximizing her opportunities has already had immediate and dire consequences. As part of AOL’s acquisition of The Huffington Post, 200 staffers from their sites such as Politics Daily and Daily Finance saw their jobs terminate

“There was no contact at all from whomever was making decisions,” said one AOL editorial insider who was let go. “Not a single person on our team was interviewed, and they didn’t even ask for resumes. It’s really a big mess.”

The layoffs include PoliticsDaily‘s editor-in-chief Melinda Henneberger, a veteran political journalist who spent 10 years at The New York Times, according to FishbowlDC.

“I have just laid off dozens of the most talented journalists & product folks I know,” Jonathan Dube, AOL’s senior vice president of news, tweeted around noon. “Need talent? Let me know!”

Even for those who remain, the future is uncertain. “Everything I support appears to be disappearing,” said one AOL tech staffer who survived the cuts. “They gutted the place.”

In addition to the 200 stateside job cuts, 700 workers in India are being let go.

Oh well, I’m sure they will be able to get jobs writing for The HuffPo for free. All they have to do is find another way to buy food, pay bills and afford the electricity for their laptops.

Will I miss the HuffPo?   As far as grabbing some fast food “infrotainment” when I want some quick and not too deep, sure I will.   But the HuffPo was never any good for in-depth investigative journalism and well-written commentary.   That was always something I had to go elsewhere in search of.  There’s no shortage of choices to go to for my information.   Huffington’s plantation is not required reading.

It all comes down to this.  I don’t need any more of Arianna Huffington’s bullshit.

Arianna Huffington’s Liberal Hypocrisy

Arianna Huffington: liberal, wealthy, greedy.

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.

AOL executive TIm Armstrong and Arianna Huffington agree to put a ring on it.

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.