In the debate about how the Huffington Post treats its bloggers who write for free, which was sparked by AOL's $315 million purchase of the site, another argument has been introduced: bloggers aren't writers, Huffpo said.
But is that true?, wonders Jeff Bercovici on Mixed Media.
Last week, The Newspaper Guild, which represents 26,000 U.S. media-industry workers, endorsed a call by Visual Arts Source magazine to stop providing free content to Huffpo now that its acquisition by AOL has made a fortune for its founders, Bercovici reported.
In a press release, The Newspaper Guild exhorted writers not working for free. The organization said its 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".
As already discussed, it is questionable whether the value of the contribution of bloggers and commenters it has really been taken into account by organizations like the Huff Post.
Of course, as Bercovici noted, Arianna Huffington's (and now AOL's) site is not the only outlet to use unpaid contributors. But Rebecca Rosen-Lum, West Coast coordinator for the Newspaper Guild's Freelance Project, quoted in the article, said Huffington presented herself as the the middle class endangered voice.
Huffington Post spokesman Mario Ruiz responded to Newspaper Guild in a press release published by Poynter. Employing a newsroom of 160 full time editors and reporters, he said, "we make a distinction between our newsroom staffers and our group bloggers - most of whom are not professional writers but come from all walks of life, from officeholders, students, and professionals to professors, entertainers, activists and heads of nonprofits. The vast majority of our bloggers are thrilled to contribute".
Bercovici wrote that, in other words, "Huffpo isn't taking advantage of anyone because the people who blog for free there wouldn't be getting paid anyway. Is it true?"
Trying to find out who really contributes for Huffpo, he looked through the bios of the last 100 Huffpo bloggers to post entries. Most of them are 'hyphenates:' There are author/academics, consultant/activist/lawyers, actor/producer/comedians, dating coach/motivational speakers and more, he said.
Even if fewer than 25 of these 100 identify themselves primarily as working journalists, there are many others whose profession does include writing.
So what do we mean by "professional writers"? Should those who hope to become professional writers, recent graduates for example, be included in the definition?
"For Huffpo to point to their failure to make a living as proof that it's not taking advantage of them while contributing to the difficulty of making that living...well, I'd call that a tad disingenuous," concluded Bercovici.