‘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 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.
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.
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.