If You Think Writing For Free Undermines Your Profession, Just Don't Do It!
from the makes-me-want-to-write-for-the-huffington-post dept
Of course we would. So why is anyone making the exact opposite argument? The latest is the Newspaper Guild, which should know better, but seems to be hellbent on attacking any innovative news platform that isn't a member of its old boys' club. It has called on all its members to boycott the Huffington Post with some really tortured logic. Let's dig in.
The Newspaper Guild is calling on unpaid writers of the Huffington Post to withhold their work in support of a strike launched by Visual Arts Source in response to the companyís practice or using unpaid labor. In addition, we are asking that our members and all supporters of fair and equitable compensation for journalists join us in shining a light on the unprofessional and unethical practices of this company.Once again, "unpaid" is in the eye of the beholder. For many writers, the Huffington Post gave them a massive platform for attention, and attention is an incredibly valuable commodity. That the Newspaper Guild, of all places, doesn't understand this says some worrying things about the Newspaper Guild. As for "unprofessional and unethical," I would argue that the Newspaper Guild willfully misrepresenting the situation here is significantly more unethical and unprofessional than anything done by the Huffington Post. No one who wrote for the Huffington Post was misled about the arrangement. It's made quite clear upfront that if you're a blogger on the site, you don't get paid. You do get attention, however. It's then up to you to make the determination if it's worth it. If not, there are literally billions of other websites to go write for, or you can go create your own. Many people felt this was a fair trade: attention and platform in exchange for writing. Why claim it's unethical when so many people entered into it willingly?
Just as we would ask writers to stand fast and not cross a physical picket line, we ask that they honor this electronic picket line.Good luck with that. The Huffington Post draws readers like almost no one else out there. If Newspaper Guild fans want to shut themselves off from that traffic firehose, that's their decision, just like it was their decision to use that firehose for free to get attention to their work.
In response to the Huffington Postís refusal to compensate its thousands of writers in the wake of its $315 million merger with AOL, the Newspaper Guild has requested a meeting with company officials to discuss ways the Huffington Post might demonstrate its commitment to quality journalism. Thus far, the request has been ignored.This is the part that bugs me the most. The whole $315 million merger bit is a total red herring, used to drum up emotion, but is meaningless. Again, would the Newspaper Guild support Arianna in asking someone who became successful, in part, by writing for the HuffPo for a cut of their earnings? Or, if the Huffington Post had run out of money, would the Guild have supported a request that the writers help hand over money to keep it running? Of course not. The investors and founders of the Huffington Post put the money in and took the risk. And they got rewarded for it. The writers did not. They didn't put their own money or equity on the line. They got the benefit of those who did. To then demand a piece of the $315 million suggests a complete misunderstanding of how basic capitalism works.
As Cherie Turner, one of the former writers, explained, "Certainly, we all have written for free for the great exposure the Huffington Post can give us, but what's the cost? Those of us on strike feel it undermines the value of our profession and is unethical, especially in light of great profits by those at the top. We are only asking for a fair share of what we are helping to create. We are also speaking out against real journalism being run side-by-side with advertorial.In other words, Turner and her group want to get double paid. They know the deal they made: to get exposure. But apparently now that's not enough. They want to get paid for the exposure they got as well? And if they didn't get their "fair share" then why did Turner and her friends write for HuffPo in the first place? It's like the Newspaper Guild is flat out admitting that it's completely clueless on basic economics.
"We feel it is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing. It is unethical to cannibalize the investment of other organizations that bear the cost of compensation and other overhead without payment for the usage of their content. It is extremely unethical to not merely blur but eradicate the distinction between the independent and informed voice of news and opinion and the voice of a shill.
Honestly, I get two key urges out of this move by the Newspaper Guild: (1) figure out if there's any way to "short" the Newspaper Guild for pure economic cluelessness and (2) suddenly I feel like writing for the Huffington Post in protest against those who are now "boycotting." Oh, and one final point: it's not a boycott. It just means you're turning down the traffic that HuffPo gave you. I'm sure HuffPo can survive fine without you. Whether or not you can survive without that attention... well, we'll see.