Sticking up for The Huffington Post

There’s been a lot in the news recently about The Huffington Post, it’s founder Arianna Huffington, and AOL, the company that acquired The Huffington Post for $315 million in February this year. Most of the coverage has been pertaining to a group of volunteer bloggers who have filed a class action suit against all three parties, stating that they want to be compensated for the content they’ve contributed freely to The Huffington Post, and they feel helped the site achieve it’s $315 million sale price. Most of this action has been led by Jonathan Tasini, a union organiser who has been writing for The Huffington Post since December 2005.

The reason I have decided to bring this matter up, and go a little off topic here on, is that I feel these bloggers, and a lot of other people that I have seen commenting on the subject, are failing to see the big picture here. For a start, The Huffington Post is a page rank 8 website. It is also one of the most visited sites, not just in the USA, but in the world! There are millions of visitors to The Huffington Post every year. One link back from HuffPo could give a huge boost in your own site’s SEO, and all round exposure to so many people that the money you would make in the long run writing one article for The Huffington Post would far outweigh the money you would receive writing one article for a much smaller online publication with less audience.

To give you an example, Gary Arndt, the man behind travel blog Everything Everywhere, wrote a comment on one of my other blogs around 5 months ago  in regards to a debate I had brought up discussing Freelance Vs Self Publication. In it he referenced The Huffington Post, when the website was asking some established travel writers and bloggers to contribute for free a little while before AOL had actually taken over. This is a section from his comment:

“I’ve written one article for the Huffington Post. I did it for free and it took a few hours of my time. That one article was then picked up by Tim Ferri’s blog.

Between the two sources, that one article has received 25,000 Facebook likes/shares, 15,000 retweets, 500 comments, and had a quarter million stumbles. I was contacted by 2 literary agents, a TV producer and the subscribers to my blog increased by 3,500….which is more subscribers than all but a small handful of travel blogs have total.

As a publisher, how much would it have cost me to get that sort of publicity? Answer: far, far, far more than what I could have possibly received in exchange for writing the article.”

I don’t know about you, but if I had written an article that had as much exposure as Gary’s one post did, I don’t think I’d be worrying about getting paid for it.

There is also the point to be made, that regardless of your views on the rights and wrongs of The Huffington Post asking writers to contribute for free, you have to ask yourself why are these writers and bloggers (who have already contributed several times to the HuffPo website) now asking for money? Take Jonathan Tasini as an example. He has written for The Huffinton Post since December 2005. That 6 years he’s been writing for them. As far as I am aware, The Huffington Post have never said he would be paid, he was always writing with the understanding that he was contributing for free. So why now is it that he is seeking compensation? At the end of the day, if you do not want to write for free, or feel it devalues your work, then you don’t have to! The Huffington Post are not forcing anybody to contribute to their site. The deal is that if you want to write for them then you are writing for free. If you don’t like it, then don’t write it!

I think the key into the main differences of opinion that people have on this debate does come down to whether you view writing for The Huffington Post as being a freelance gig, or something to aid your own publication. I think the main problem is that some people are viewing writing for HuffPo as freelance work, but in actual fact what they are offering is simply a platform for which to expose your own blog to a new and much larger audience. At least that’s the way I see it anyway.

Nobody wants to write for nothing, but just because there is not an immediate monetary value by writing for The Huffington Post, does not mean you are getting nothing in return. Look beyond it and you will see the end result is much larger than the immediate gratification.

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12 Responses to “Sticking up for The Huffington Post”

  1. Kelsey says:

    I’m torn on this one, but I think you’re correct in your assessment that this has to do with how you perceive writing for HuffPo. If you view it as freelancing, then yeah, it sucks. If you just view it as a chance at self-promotion, then it’s a good avenue for that.

  2. Sophie says:

    You raise valid points. Good exposure could be considered a currency of sorts.

  3. Gary Arndt says:

    The lawsuit against the HuffPo is ridiculous.

    If you didn’t want to write for free you didn’t have to. No one put a gun to anyone’s head.

    BTW, I wrote a 2nd article for the HuffPo. It didn’t get as much traffic, but I did land a gig with The Atlantic from it :)

  4. I write there and love it. I really have absolutely no idea why so many writers are against it. The future is some form of that — get out there and get going.

  5. Simon says:

    Good piece and a lot of interesting toughts.
    I totally agree with Gary and many others that writing for free – whatever the reason – was part of the game and every one as free to accept or to decline.
    However, I can’t help wondering: “why now?” My guess is that the sale to AOL and the huge amount Arianna Huffington made from it did probably play a relevant role. I have sometimes the feeling that the people who are now complaining and ready to make a lawsuit are mostly driven by the feeling that they “have been betrayed”. Not only regarding the money, but because the entire project behind HuffPost – in which they probably believed – has been put aside as soon as a fair amount of money was thrown in the table.
    I never contributed to the HuffPost and I might be totally wrong. I would be really interested in hearing from other writers what is their view.

  6. I’m betwixt and between on this. It did a lot for Gary, but considering the price tag you mention? 315 million? Huffington, now AOL, can afford to pay bloggers.

    Ok, realize that’s a separate issue than what you’re talking about. I just wonder if it’s negative to set a precedent for future writers/bloggers. The general public might not know that Mike & Gary did their writing in exchange for backlink juice. They probably do now after reading this, but if they can afford to pay why aren’t they?

    I understand the PR coup it would be.. yet, the other side of me thinks that writers should be paid for their words, because the current rate is already dismal and a near unliveable wage.

    It baffles me that writers command so little when EVERYONE on this planet reads (mostly) and absorbs words everyday. Reminds me of what teachers endure right now.

    As for Jonathan Tasini, it’s quite clear where his motives lie. Hindsight is 20/20 and he’s nursing regret wounds. Shoulda, coulda. From your research, he knew the score and balked when the cash cow rolled in.

    I guess I have to be content with how Kelsey (above) coins it. Know what it’s for and live with your choices.

    I admit, if Huffington came calling… I would be conflicted.

    That’s my rant for the day! Thanks for listening. :)

  7. Zee says:

    I’m an animator. I often post my drawings on art blogs. If one of those blogs was sold to a huge corporatio­­n and suddenly made tons of money, I would expect that they start paying people for their contributi­­ons. If they did not, I would simply stop giving them my art for free. I would not sue them though. The Huffpost should immediatel­­y stop the freebees and pay their regular contributo­­rs. I see no excuse not to.
    We are at a point, in many industries­­, that content creators are getting the short end of the stick or none of the stick at all, while the aggregator­­s, who depend on the content creators, are raking in big bucks. While there is nothing legally wrong this, I find it morally wrong.

  8. Lauren says:

    I’m not sticking up for the Huffington Post or the unpaid bloggers. I just think this illustrates yet another BIG turning point in the value of online content, which is a fascinating topic. I also think the monetary value of HuffPo came from the community, not the blog content.

    My day job is for an organization with a website that gets many millions of visits a year. We’re a non-profit, and we do not pay for our great content. Many of our feature content contributors are professional writers and photographers, and they contribute their content just as a volunteer would contribute their time. But the real engine for our massive traffic, especially our returning traffic? Our user-generated content.

    I suspect it’s the same with HuffPo. It is for me. To be honest, I don’t go to HuffPo for the great blog writing. I go to have provocative conversations in the comments with other website visitors. This, I think, is what made HuffPo worth over $300 million. The unpaid blog content increases their SEO, but their repeat traffic, the stuff that doesn’t bounce, is from people who are part of the HuffPo community.

    So the next question is, should the star commenters be paid, too? 😉

  9. Alouise says:

    I can see both points of this argument. I’m taking a professional writing course, and I can see how little some writers are getting paid. If you are doing writing as a profession, then you need to get paid. If a writer doesn’t feel they should write for free, then they shouldn’t have to. Each blogger who contributed to the Huffington Post knew they weren’t being paid. But as you said they are getting contributions in other ways, such as increased readership and blog exposure. There’s pros and cons to each side.

  10. I’ve been a paid journalist and freelance writer for years now, but I have written some things for free. I think it can definitely help when you’re starting out in a niche. I had written little on travel prior to a few months ago, but those unpaid gigs helped me land stories on AOL Travel and other paid sites. But I agree with those who say you know what you’re getting yourself into when you write unpaid content. If you want to get paid, write for sites you know will pay you. Simple as that.

  11. Brock says:

    Thank you enlightening me Jane. I didn’t see this angle before, but now I’m sold! Well done!


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