The Huffington Post, combing the web for trending pieces, curates a lot of solid content. Good stuff. Stuff I am willing to miss.
Why am I not reading HuffPost? They don’t need—nor deserve—my pretty green peepers. With over 5 million likes on their Facebook page, not to mention how many millions more reached on the website and through sponsored placement on other sites, I’m just another pair of eyeballs attached to a click-ready index finger. But it’s more than that.
Given the hugeness of the enterprise, and the ridiculous amount of money the site rakes in, I simply cannot abide that they do not pay guest contributors. People they track down and invite to write for the site. Writers whose content helps make HuffPost $2.3 million in a pay per click framework.
Oh, that’s not an annual number. $2.3 million every month.
Conglomerate posing as start-up
It seems like HuffPost has figured out the how-to-monetize-a-blog quandary. Yet, in a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, an insider puzzled that “we couldn’t figure out how to get this thing to make money.” Well. Stiffing your contributors is a solid start. When writers are ‘invited’ to give away content for free, it comes with a #sorrynotsorry compensation package. Hardly a start up, The Huffington Post still insists that it, “unfortunately, is unable to financially compensate bloggers at this time.”
Ok. We’re all compensated in a bunch of different ways all the time. Fair enough. What is the compensation then? The “unique platform and reach our site provides.” Let’s diagram that payment sentence. Unique. It’s a website, right? With a menu of categories, yes. And people use a mouse or trackpad? And there are links? There! On the screen, links, right? Oh, there’s a lot of people using the mouse and trackpad all at once? They click on the links. A lot, you say? Ooohkay, I guess.
That sounds like a pretty ordinary digital experience to me. I have those everyday, and no one is paying me then either. Depending on the topic of your coveted-by-HuffPost content—and the more controversial, the more sought after—factor in the potential firestorm endured in the Comments section, and *you’re sort of paying them* for the privilege to be abused multiple times over.
Pay per click benefits the blog, not the blogger
Let’s see if I can make this equation work: $2.3 million monthly revenue = no pay for freelancers. Add the Exposure, subtract your bills, carry the bullshit and what’s left over? Nothing.
Exactly what you get paid writing for HuffPost.
Plenty of sites offer exposure as payment. But Myles Tanzer, an editor at BuzzFeed, makes an interesting observation: “I don’t think there’s a point to writing for exposure if your basic post is going to get buried in 15 minutes.” Say on a giant site like HuffPost?
Some sites pay writers—not a flat rate per word or by genre—by the click, a trend which is troubling. This is where a writer often loses control of the right to pen her own headline, lest it be deemed not clickable [read: sensational] enough. How many great stories do we miss because they are deemed…moderately clickable? Is media culture really this intolerant of nuance? But all those clicks!
Can you pay rent with clicks? Some people would have you think so.
Worth publishing = worth payment
Still, writers get super excited when a piece from a personal blog, or one they were *paid to create* by another digital outlet gets picked up by HuffPost. Truth be told, I probably would, too. Writers love when our words reach readers—lots of readers, especially—but must it be an altruistic endeavor? Some people don’t even consider writing a serious endeavor. Payment aside, any writer of an up-against-a-deadline reported piece or wrenching personal essay will tell you: writing is as serious as a heart attack.
So we have the hobbyist/English major perception to battle already, actually furthered by a media outlet perfectly-positioned to legitimize writing as career, as money maker. The Huffington post is made up of nothing *but* writing. Yet it holds writers in such low regard. Weird. Most freelance writers knighted by Arianna Huffington have yet to realize any tangible benefit from the famed HuffPost “exposure”: neither paying gigs nor book deal await after the last clickable day. Not much of anything.
Um. Who’s benefitting, really? It’s not the writer.
Even a celebrity who can afford to give away content for free turned down this bullshit offer. I love that Wil Wheaton, who played a boy-come-successful-writer in Stand By Me has taken up the #paythewriter mantle this week. That photo at the top of the story? That’s Gordie wondering why the fuck The Huffington Post doesn’t pay its freelance writers.
Financially speaking, writers die of “exposure.” HuffPost is the Walmart of creative freelancing…the biggest offender in the low/no pay problem, and the biggest influencer of other competing outlets. At least Walmart pays part-timers *something.* The Huffington Post refusing to pay contributors allows other sites to do the same, and cite the conglomerate’s precedent. HuffPost policy is setting an incredibly low industry standard. Monetarily and morally, both.
Writers, creators of all stripe, remember: If you make something that someone things is worth publishing, printing, or promoting you are worth being paid for it.
Enjoy some more well-reasoned arguments for media outlets to #paythewriter. Use them to blow off steam; learn better negotiation skills; share them with other creatives; weep in bewilderment that we are having this discussion.
Have a favorite similar meme or article? Share it in the comments.
Mike Montiero, F*ck You, Pay Me: SF Creative Mornings
Harlan Ellison’s now classic #paythewriter rant