Amazing Disgrace: The ‘Pride’ of The Huffington Post

Image - iStockphoto: Toth Gabor Gyula
Image – iStockphoto: Toth Gabor Gyula

‘But What Can We Do?’

It’s one of the longest-running shrugs in contemporary writing life, the vexing issue of The Huffington Post not paying a reputed 100,000 bloggers who write for it.

The matter was blown open again two days ago when Steve Hewlett on BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show (audio) interviewed Huffington Post UK’s editor-in-chief Stephen Hull.

The handle for the appearance on the show was the “guest-editing” stint done by HRH Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, at the Post for the launch of a “Young Minds Matter” series of articles addressing children’s mental health. Let’s be clear that the controversy here is not about the humanitarian intent of that effort.

Stephen Hull
Stephen Hull

During the course of the Hewlett conversation with Huffington Post UK’s Hull, Hewlett brings up the question of unpaid labor on the glowing pages of the big medium. Hull puts on his game voice and toughs it out this way, as quoted by Brendan James at the International Business Times (IBT) in Unpaid Huffington Post Bloggers Actually Do Want To Get Paid:

If I was paying someone to write something because I want it to get advertising, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. When somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real, we know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.

Parsing the three key points here, then, Hull is proposing that:

  • If you pay a writer and take advertising dollars, you are not publishing that writer in an “authentic way” (there goes The New York Times, let alone the Post’s own paid editorial staffers);
  • If a writer gives his or her work to you free of charge, you can then know “they want to write it” (paying a writer gets you a mercenary);
  • Not paying writers is “something to be proud of” (let’s drive the car right on over the cliff).

A brief update here: In responding to many of the comments on this piece, I think it’s worth clarifying that The Huffington Post does hire and pay editorial staffers, Stephen Hull being one of them. The issue here has to do with its use of unpaid blog work. For the record, the Post has the right to set and maintain its policies, just as others have the right to disagree or agree with them.

Chuck Wendig
Chuck Wendig

The real currency of debate here is this latest characterization of the rationale for the Post’s policy, built around what’s “authentic,” what writers “want to write,” and “something to be proud of.” That triply explosive comment has set off responses up and down the writerly drum line, perhaps most eloquently and energetically from author and avid commentator Chuck Wendig in Scream It at Them Until Their Ears Bleed: Pay the Fucking Writers.

I’ll give you just a bit of length here on Wendig’s Munch-esque scream:

Hull is, to repeat, proud that they do not pay writers. HuffPo is owned by AOL who is actually Verizon. Not small companies. The audio link notes from Hull that they are a profitable business.

And yet, they do not pay the writers.

And yet, they are proud not to pay the writers.


Because it isn’t “authentic.” To pay writers…

Let us expose this hot nonsense for what it is: a lie meant to exploit writers and to puff up that old persistent myth about the value of exposure or the joy of the starving artist or the mounting power of unpaid citizen journalism.

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh
Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

Huffing and Puffing at HuffPo

In 2011, there was a failed effort to sue The Huffington Post on this issue.

The case was thrown out (and here is Reuters on it), as James’ adept IBT article reminds us, when the judge ruled that no one had forced writers to work free of charge for the site that Jonah Peretti, Andrew Breitbart, Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer founded in 2005. That was certainly a logical legal determination: bloggers provide their material there by choice.

And there’s the crux of my Provocation in Publishing for you today:

  1. Since no one is forced to write free for The Huffington Post, then they are making the choice to do so voluntarily. We can do no less than hold our writing colleagues responsible for enabling The Huffington Post to use their work free of charge. If they stopped giving the medium their work, it could no longer take advantage of their work “for the exposure.”
  2. If we read unpaid writers at The Huffington Post, and if we tweet their unpaid work and quote their unpaid work and otherwise support their unpaid work there, then we, too, are complicit in the “pride” of The Huffington Post in not paying our good colleagues and our friends.

In short, I and others may strongly regret this use of unpaid writerly labor (and you may disagree, that’s fine); what we’re considering here today is how writers make that use of unpaid writers viable for the Post or other media.

There’s more: Read the full story at Writer Unboxed

By Porter Ander­son

Writer Unboxed: Amazing Disgrace: The ‘Pride’ of The Huffington Post

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