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Do the Huffington Bloggers Deserve to Get Paid?

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Today, I am saying something that I thought I’d never say: freelance writers don’t deserve payment. Before I start getting hate mail, let me explain. I don’t mean all freelance writers – just the ones in this story.

Earlier today, former Huffington Post blogger Jonathan Tasini filed a class action lawsuit against The Huffington Post, AOL, and co-owners Arianna Huffington (pictured at left) and Kenneth Lerer on behalf of thousands of writers who have blogged for the online publication over the last several years. He’s asking for $105 million, about a third of the site’s sale price in the recent AOL deal, which comes out to about $11,500 per writer (if split evenly, though I’m sure it would be based on post count). To date, they haven’t seen a dime.

The Huffington Post does have a staff of paid writers as well, who are not as part of this lawsuit as far as I know – this lawsuit it specific to the blogging “staff” (or better put, the blogging volunteers).

According to Tasini, the bloggers working for the site “are merely slaves on Arianna’s plantation. We do all the work and she won’t share a dime.”

Here’s the key point he’s missing, though: slaves are forced into labor. Not a single blogger at The Huffington Post was forced to write anything or, as far as I know, led to believe that they would ever get paid. I actually looked into getting a blogging job with them several years ago and decided against it for that exact reason – they weren’t offering payment.

What The Huffington Post offered bloggers was exposure. They gave writers the ability to blog about topics they enjoyed at a site where there was built-in traffic (i.e., the site already had traffic, it wouldn’t be like starting a new blog where you’re relatively invisible). In my experiences, “exposure” is rarely worth the work you do, but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves. I’ve certainly taken jobs at lower rates than I would normally accept because I knew it would be good exposure or look good in my portfolio. Doing so doesn’t mean that I have the right to sue later because I see someone making money from my work.

Look at it this way: Let’s say that I’m building a restaurant and I find someone willing to sell me beautiful tiles for $100 when it would typically cost several thousand. Years later, if that restaurant is a massive success and business is booming, in part because people like the decor, that tile seller doesn’t have the right to come back and demand more money. He named his price. I paid it. Transaction over. That’s capitalism – buy for the lowest price possible, sell for the highest price possible.

The Huffington Post bloggers, by agreeing to their contract, named their price: nothing. The Huffington Post paid it. Transaction over. Do I believe that it is right for a writer not to get paid for his/her work? No – unless you agree to work for free.

I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know how this will end, but I actually hope that the writers don’t get any money. It’s not fair, in my opinion, to agree to do something for free and then send and invoice later. What if, for example, I accept a guest post from somebody and later they come back and demand payment? It’s not a far stretch from this lawsuit, and that scares me as a site owner.

What do you all think about this lawsuit? Do you believe that the Huffington bloggers deserve to be paid?

Photo via Flickr from Pete Wright

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


Feedback

33
  • Miss Britt

    Those of us who have been asking top freelancers to stop writing at Huffingpost since long before the sale are shaking our heads so hard right now.

    And we’re shaking them “hell no.”

    It’s like these writers are just now finding out someone made money off their work.

    • Allison Boyer

      Seriously.

      And that brings up another point. It’s one thing to do some work for free or a lower price for a start-up. It’s another to do it for a site that’s making a ton of money and can afford to pay. It’s like sending a message that it’s okay to consider freelancers worthless and drives down the prices in the market in general. Writers – you are valuable!

      • Tina

        And your point is exactly why I stopped writing for Examiner.com and its ilk. I grew tired of not being paid what I am worth.

  • JudyHelfand

    Alli,
    I will make this short. I agree with you.

    Judy

    • Allison Boyer

      You must be really busy today, Judy! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a short comment from you! :-p Thanks for weighing in, though. Glad that most others seem to be agreeing with my position. 🙂

      • marg

        While Huff’s free lance bloggers have no entitlements legally as embodied in the contract, Ms. Arianna and her co-owners (out of decency and fair play) could have at least thought of sharing the “bonanza” (from the sale) to these people who have contributed in a way to the success of the company. Probably a recognition, or any kind of monetary or non-monetary remuneration for the effort and the time…. so as to lessen or avoid the situation in a way.
        To make this world a better place to live in, we can’t just based everything on legal terms….
        Cheers,
        http://www.myusefultips.com

  • Delores Williams

    They are whiners. If they had ZERO clue, then I might feel a twinge of something, but they KNEW they were writing for “exposure.” They were stupid enough to do it, so they need to stop the whining and get to work writing for a FEE. Sadly though Forbes is trying to duplicate this free model. Perhaps instead of tapping freelancers they should tap their Rolodex for people who don’t need the money and want to reach the respective audience. This lawsuit will come to nothing as it should.

    • Allison Boyer

      The sad thing is, this one dude is speaking on behalf of everyone, and many of the bloggers might not agree – but he’s making them all look like whiners.

  • Anonymous

    I 100% agree with your position Allison – and how clearly you stated it. It isn’t about whether their content is quality and worth payment (because many of it is) but it’s about the fact that they agreed to write for free, and are writing because they want exposure. Demanding payment now is like eating an entire meal at a restaurant, then saying you didn’t like it and expecting it free. These (couple) of bloggers (I know it’s not all of them) are making themselves look really bad…and giving the industry a bad name,

  • Kirsten Alana

    I don’t think they deserve to get paid no. I don’t agree with writing for free, I don’t desire to do so for HuffPost or anyone else. However, they made their bed long ago – now, they have to sleep in it. Even if the sheets are now dirty and the bed smells. End of story.

  • BlogWorld Expo

    Alli is obviously right. Everyone who contributed at HuffPo did so knowing the terms in advance. This guy has a political agenda. He certainly received exposure from his posts on HuffPo and this whole story is ginning up tons of publicity for him. He will lose this lawsuit. It is completely without merit but he just found a way to Link Bait us and the entire main stream media.

    • Allison Boyer

      Ack, I hate that aspect of writing about something controversial – always gives fuel to someone’s stupidity fire. Sometimes, I actually don’t write about stuff because I don’t want to give the person publicity!

  • Danny Brown

    When you write for a third-party platform outside your own, you basically have two choices:

    1. Paid content contract
    2. Non-paid but plenty of exposure

    Seems the writers for HuffPo were happy enough to get all the SEO love a site with 26 million uniques per month gave them before the sale. Why not now? And why not complain about not getting paid prior to the sale? It stinks of greedy hindsight.

    I wrote about it recently (if it’s okay to share links?):

    http://dannybrown.me/2011/02/10/huffington-post-content-sale/

    Make your bed – either say goodbye to pay in lieu of big exposure and the potential that could bring down the line, or make sure you’re on a paid contract and you have it written what any future revenue might include.

    • Allison Boyer

      It’s definitely okay to share links! I might be the only blogger out there who loves when people link to their own content in a comment. Thanks for sharing!

      • Danny Brown

        Haha, woot, that makes two of us (and another reason I love the CommentLuv plugin on native comment systems). 🙂

        Thanks, Alli!

    • BillionDollarBlogger

      I’m inclined to agree with you. They went into the assignment with their eyes wide open. It isn’t like anyone “forced” them to write, like Alli said. So, no, they should not get paid.

  • Coffee with Julie

    100% agree with you.

  • Anonymous

    When you enter the game, you know the rules of the game and you accept them. ’nuff said.

  • Michele Price

    Great story and while “he” may be getting exposure and publicity, is it the kind that will endear him to someone to hire him? I think not, talk about smacking yourself in the face.

    While I agree they knew going into it the scoop, it does allow us to examine the business model and how it could be done differently next time. Imagine the good will of giving your bloggers who helped you get that great buy out “something”.

    Who will create a better model next time?

  • PeopleBrowsr

    I have to agree with the article, no one was forced to write anything. However, for as much influence that these writers have on communities and for huffington perhaps they should be paid but definitely not retroactively.

    To see more about influence and its history check out: Peoplebrowsr’s “A Brief Cartoon Study of Social Influence” http://slidesha.re/gUzmpg

    Also, read Simon Dumenco’s piece of influence and PeopleBrowsr: http://bit.ly/hmXCif

  • Words Done Write

    I’m with ya, Alli! If you agree to work for free, you can’t be disgruntled later. That’s precisely why I’ve had no interest in HuffPo.

    There are MANY sites out there looking for people to populate their archives. Some don’t pay; some pay $5 or $10 a story. Same thing applies. If you agree to work for that, you can’t be angry later.

    I hate frivolous lawsuits and this is a great example of greed. If you make a bad decision and are upset later; learn from your mistake and don’t repeat it. Don’t blame someone else for your bad judgment. Sheesh!

    Amber Avines @wordsdonewrite

    • Allison Boyer

      This is definitely a frivolous lawsuit if I ever hear one. The dude heading it up has even admitted that it wasn’t his idea – some lawyers came to him with the idea. If someone has to tell you that your rights were violated and you’re mad, that’s not a good sign!

  • Gabrielle

    When I saw the title I though, “What the?” but when I read the article, I definitely have to agree with you. If it’s in the contract (and I’m sure they had to sign one for Huffington), then they’ve already agreed to working for free in exchange for exposure. It’s like taking a non-paid internship just worded differently.

  • Dave Lucas

    Most bloggers would kill for the amount of exposure (and if they’re smart, mileage) one would get by contributing articles to HuffPo. And if they weren’t smart enough to parlay their posts into something more… then they’re not as smsrt as they (and we might have) believed they were.

  • the twitterer

    I’ll happily write for arianna if she would only ask me!

  • Kirk Taylor

    This is too much! Arianna creates a capitalistic machine, gets a bunch of people who all feel they are entitled to write for her in exchange for publicity, she sells out and tells them, too bad, you signed the contract! Now they think they are entitled…

    Classic.

    What I’m most amazed is that everyone is agreeing with your point of view. I certainly thought there would be opposing view points.

    Great post!

  • Paula Lee Bright

    You are dead on right, and I’m relieved to read this. I hadn’t been sure what to make of it. But I should have trusted my gut.

    I’m considering something now that might be very good for me. And I wouldn’t be paid. But the work would remain mine and I am free to promote my own products or interests.

    I’ve got some real thinking to do. Oh, how I wish I knew more, fast! But learning takes time. I sure hope to make it to BWNY11. Thanks, Alli. 🙂

  • Hannah Yu

    great

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