Media — September 1, 2012 at 11:10 am

National Writers Union takes Huffington Post to task for exploiting writers


That’s low, HuffPo

The AFL-CIO’s National Writers Union (of which I am a proud member) took the Huffington Post to the woodshed again this week. This time it was over their exploitation of unpaid content providers at the Republican National Convention.

Here’s what activist Andrew Van Alstyne wrote on NWU’s Pay the Writer! site:

The National Writers Union strongly condemns the Huffington Post’s ongoing exploitation of unpaid labor. Since the 2008 election, the Huffington Post’s Off the Bus program generates high quality original reporting on all aspects of the election process. None of these citizen journalists are paid for their work, even when it draws significant national attention. The Off the Bus reporters at the Republican National Convention will continue the Huffington Post’s shameful tradition of exploiting unpaid work.

The company will also be reaching new heights of shamelessness. As part of its presence in Tampa, the Huffington Post offers convention attendees Oasis, a candle lit retreat that’s “a reminder to find balance in the hustle and bustle of the conventions.” Among the offerings are yoga classes, massages, mini-facials, and meditation. Like its thousands of citizen journalists and bloggers, the massage professionals are unpaid and working for “exposure.”

I wrote for the Off the Bus effort during the 2008 election, making the front page a couple of times. I got a nice framed picture with printouts of my top three pieces and a cheerful inscription on the back encouraging me to keep writing more for them.

And that was it.

They earned ad revenue and hits from my contribution but I got nothing. A couple of years later, Arianna Huffington sold HuffPo to AOL for $315 million. My friend Jonathan Tasini sued HuffPo on behalf of the many unpaid writers, but was ultimately unsuccessful, primarily because the writers gave up their content freely.

When HuffPo Detroit started up last year, I was invited to submit material to them. I told them that I was no longer writing for free and that I would be happy to work out an arrangement to provide them with content if they would be willing to pay me. But, no, that was not their plan. As usual, they wanted me to simply give them my writing in exchange for “exposure”. With Eclectablog being the most popular political site in Michigan, that really wasn’t compelling so I invited them to link to my site and concluded the conversation.

It’s one thing for writers to occasionally cross-post their material on sites that will give them wider exposure or that will ensure an issue they are passionate about will get a wider audience. I do this myself, occasionally cross-posting to Daily Kos and Opposing Views. These sites give me exposure to a huge number of viewers nationally so that’s a reasonable exchange. Writing for HuffPo MAY do that for a writer, but my experience is that, in general, it does not. What makes it the most galling is that they have set up a highly profitable business model that is reliant on unpaid “citizen journalism”.

Kudos to the NWU and their Pay the Writers! effort. Journalism is in a state of flux at the moment and it’s incumbent upon us to ensure that writers are not taken advantage of as a new model develops.

(And, yes, LOLGOP is paid to write for Eclectablog.)