The Huffington post finds itself once again at the heart of a Twitter storm of writers and bloggers. The aggregated content website launched in 2005 by Arianna Huffington and sold last year to AOL for a whopping $315 million US dollars is under attack from writing professionals about the way their content is generated and remunerated.
The hashtag #writersunite is spreading across Twitter and raising the issue of non payment for HuffPo bloggers, a discussion prevalent and repeated often online since the much publicised and lucrative deal with AOL. Back in February last year Jason Linkins, a salaried writer for HuffPo gave his response in a somewhat patronising manner; the mainstay of his argument was, seemingly, that he is paid a salary since “there’s this expectation that on a daily basis, you will show up and do work. In an office and everything! There you are subject to things like deadlines”. The counter situation of bloggers working for free, being, in his view because “part of what “free” entitles you to is a freedom from “having to work.” No daily hours, no deadlines, no late nights, no weekends. You just do what you like when the spirit moves you.”
Mr Linkins obviously feels that bloggers deliver content for free because they can, and in part he is right. Can we really blame Ms Huffington for building a multi-million pound site form content that is readily supplied?
There is a culture of guest posting on larger blogs which many bloggers and writers engage in. It enables their content to be seen in front of a new, often larger audience, and it is common practise to guest post for others. Whether or not you choose to do so is at every writer’s discretion and a subject I have touched upon before. The benefits for a growing blog can be myriad, as building those all important stats for monetizing a site is crucial. Blogging for the Huffington Post offers exposure to a very large audience, although this is broken down by Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEightblog to be much less than perhaps hoped for by any contributing blogger, and that, in fact, most traffic comes to the News articles, not the blogs.
Nonetheless, these articles could be paid for, and they currently aren’t. Michelle Haimoff, a Huffpo blogger herself, explored possible models for blogger compensation back in 2009,. Her reason for suggesting a payment model was not from a moral standpoint, since she says “People are willing to write for The Huffington Post for free. I’m one of them. It’s great exposure, the tone is unapologetically opinionated and if you’ve ever met Arianna Huffington you’ve noticed that she exudes a kind of warmth and authenticity that is rare for people at her level in the media world.” Michelle’s angle is that the problem with so much aggregated free content is that there is more potential to have copy that isn’t top level standards. If the only bloggers who contribute are people that can afford to do so, are they really of a high enough standard to be paid in the first place?
Herein lies the catch. Huffpo risks sub-standard blogging from its unpaid resources, counter balanced by the offer of unending content by aspiring writers for free.
If people are happy to post for free, should they be allowed to do so? Or, is it a moral duty of the Huffington post to set standards in paying contributors for providing content to a site that has a globally publicized revenue stream?
If the #writersunite social media campaign wins a positive reaction from HuffPo the way in which large news agencies and sites work with bloggers could be changed dramatically. This is an issue around blogging versus writing, employment versus freelance and the perception of blogging as a resource not worth paying for.
The Huffington Post uses bloggers and, like many other sites making revenues from freely provided content, they are not compensating the power of the blogosphere they so readily harness.
The #writersunite movement will huff and puff, but will whether they blow the house down remains to be seen.
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Post by Jo Gifford, one of blur Group’s new bloggers.