In 1983, I took an administrative assistant job in the department at Standard & Poor's that publishes the Register of Corporations. S&P at that time (perhaps it still is) was a screwy amalgam of Guild and non-Guild jobs. Because the part of the company in which I worked was primarily a publisher of financial information, it was a Guild shop. By 1985, my boss wanted to promote me to a marketing manager position -- and the Guild rep blocked my promotion. Even though I would be replaced with a Guild employee, the rep refused to allow me to leave the union as long as I was working in that department. And there was no union title or level that was appropriate for me to move ahead. So no promotion. I ended up leaving the department in 1986 for the IT group, which was NOT covered by the Guild, and the rest of my career is history.
From 1998 to 2005, I wrote movie reviews online. I first wrote for a now-defunct site called Virtual Urth, that I saw was looking for reviewers. I wrote for free, because I was new to the web and wasn't ready to set up my own shop. About a year later, I went off on my own, was admitted into the Online Film Critics Society, started another site jointly with my friend Gabriel, and was a co-founder of the Cinemarati film discussion community (which has been revived, in a sense, on Facebook and as a Meetup group in London, where another co-founder, Mary Ann Johanson, is now living. Every now and then, I'd receive an e-mail from a larger site (sometimes only marginally larger), offering me a gig posting reviews there, for the "valuable exposure" I'd receive. These were all people looking to make money with advertising, and my work would presumably bring in eyeballs that would help them sell more ads. They would make the money, not me. So I invariably said, Thanks, but no thanks.
Even now, I receive e-mails like this from people trying to set up aggregation-type sites, and I always refuse. Established businesses that want to syndicate links to my posts and pay me a percentage of the click-throughs, fine. But you're not going to make a living off of my work. I don't even make a living off of my work, but then I haven't really tried to turn B@B into a significant revenue generator. I do take blog ads (that I screen for appropriateness when they come in; you won't see any of those "Like Donald Trump? Take the Poll" ads that you see on far too many progressive blogs. I make about ten bucks a year from being an Amazon affiliate. And I do take donations, which are few and far between and which these days I tend to send to jurassicpork, who does yeoman work of covering here when I'm just too busy and whose economic situation has made him the living embodiment of the casualties of the Greed Economy. But while I write for my readers, in the hope that you will either learn something, or find comfort that you're not alone, or that you'll find resources to pass on to your friends, I mostly do this because it's the one thing in my life that's MINE.
I provide all this background to give personal context to this post on the Newspaper Guild's call for Huffington Post writers to withhold their work in support of Visual Arts Source's decision to "strike" HuffPo until the site agrees to 1) initiate a compensation schedule for writers, and 2) stop posting paid promotional content alongside actual editorial content.
I'm sure that the Newspaper Guild sees the now-AOL-owned HuffPo as being ripe for the picking for members, but there's a larger issue here about Huffington Post. It was one thing when Arianna Huffington was using her fame and media access in service of progressive causes. HuffPo started out as a vanity project for Arianna's friends to blog about their pet causes. But over time, the site became less about news and more about gossip, fashion, and medical quackery -- and less valuable. But as long as Arianna's heart seemed to be in the right place, there was a sort of quid pro quo about the progressive community's relationship to the site -- we'll overlook that you don't pay anyone because you're providing a valuable service. But after pocketing $350 million of AOL money, Huffington has already become squishy in the progressive part, and having to build the business is no longer an excuse for not paying writers.
The promise of "increased exposure", as I knew back in my relative Web infancy, is as empty a promise as "I'll pull out in time." Finding an unpaid gem at HuffPo requires an investment of time that most of us don't have. But it's really about the principle: If I can throw a few bucks at JP when I can, do you mean to tell me that Arianna Huffington, with $350 million plus whatever she got in her divorce from Mike Huffington, can't afford to pay her writers even twenty-five bucks a pop?
And this is why, no matter how much I might want to link to something Sam Stein might have to say, not only do I no longer link to articles at HuffPo, I refuse to give the site my eyeballs. The Guild's support of Visual Arts Source's strike/boycott may be all about seeing potential union dues, but that doesn't in any way negate that boycotting HuffPo is the right thing to do.
And if I haven't convinced you, perhaps Huffington's own words will:
Huffington, speaking alongside AOL chief Tim Armstrong at PaidContent’s 2011 Conference in New York on Thursday, dismissed the notion that all bloggers should be paid, given the wide platform HuffPo gives them.
She argued that blogging on the Huffington Post is equivalent to going on Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart or the “Today” show to promote their ideas.
And, she said, there are plenty of people willing to take their place if they do.
“The idea of going on strike when no one really notices,” Huffington said. “Go ahead, go on strike.”
Shorter Arianna Huffington: "Let them eat cake."