By Rebecca Rosen Lum, Freelance Unit Chair – Media Workers Guild
April 25, 2012
This time, it’s cartoonist Garry Trudeau knocking the Huffington Post for paying writers in “exposure.”
Trudeau is in good company: The Huffington Post has been dissed by the best, from Chris Hedges to Stephen Colbert. The first editorial cartoonist to win a Pulitzer Prize, the Doonesbury creator was just named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine.
In a Doonesbury strip published April 9, first in a series highlighting the twisted economics of online media, laid-off reporter Rick Redfern gets a call from the Huffington Post with an invitation to join the ranks of its unpaid bloggers.
“We think you’d be a perfect fit at the Huffington Post, Rick,” says a voice at the other end of the phone line.
“And why is that?” asks Rick, sitting at his computer. “Are you under the impression I’m looking for unpaid work?”
“OK, so we don’t compensate bloggers, but it would be great exposure,” the caller says.
“Exposure?” says Rick. “Can I eat exposure? Can I smoke it?”
No hard feelings, said HuffPost’s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim, a self-described “big Doonesbury fan.”
“I thought it was funny,” he said. “Good comedy is often unfair, and that’s ok.”
Bloggers howled: “A riot,” said one who asked to remain nameless.
“It takes someone like Gary Trudeau to illustrate the absurdities and contradictions of the Huffington Post,” said former blogger Molly Secours, whose posts on racial disparities in education, employment and criminal justice drew hundreds of comments on the HuffPost site.
The strip was “well timed,” Secours noted. A judge just threw out a lawsuit by bloggers seeking compensation for work which they say helped beef up the value of the Huffington Post to $315 million when sold to AOL.
The Post launched seven years ago with a business plan that factored in the free contributions of writers. In 2011, shortly after AOL sealed the purchase, and threw in a $4 million annual salary for Ms. Huffington, our Guild Freelancers unit and the national Guild-CWA launched the “Hey Arianna, Can You Spare a Dime?” campaign. The boycott drew hundreds of supporters and changed — we hope for good — the expectation that journalists working online don’t deserve to be paid. Huffington brass eventually agreed to meet with Guild president Bernie Lunzer and organizing director Tim Schick.
And the so-called “Internet newspaper” won a Pulitzer of its own last week for “Beyond the Battlefield,” David Wood’s 10-part series on the struggles of veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wood, at least, is one of the site’s paid staff. The HuffPost nominated unpaid blogger Mayhill Fowler for her coverage of the presidential campaign, prompting Secours to ask, “Her work was worthy of a Pulitzer but not payment?”
Grim, the HuffPost bureau chief, “had mentioned her ‘Off the Bus’ project as an example of her commitment to developing journalists,” Schick said after an early meeting. “I just checked it out and it’s exactly what we don’t support: Journalists writing for free.”
Turns out designers didn’t want to work for free, either, as the HuffPost discovered after launching a contest asking volunteers to submit proposals for a new logo (“Have a cool idea for a logo that screams “awesome political coverage?”), raising the ire of the American Institute of Graphic Arts among others.
“Professional designers have finally had it with the Huffington Post always asking for free shit all the time,” Ryan Tate wrote in Gawker. “You’re a publicly traded company now, HuffPo. You can design your own damned logo for politics coverage.”
The Huffington Post’s penny-pinching practices have provided lively fodder for comics.
Stephen Colbert launched “The Colbuffington Re-Post,” in which he posted the entire contents of the Huffington Post (“Arianna, if I find a buyer, I promise to give you the same cut you’re giving me” – nothing).
And Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers drew howls at the 2011 White HousePress Correspondents’ Dinner: “The Huffington Post party is asking people to go to other parties first and just steal their food and drinks to bring back from there.”
If the jokes show no sign of abating, that suggests a resolution is in order, said Lunzer.
“The only thing I’m certain of is that we need to organize them.”