Scream It Until Their Ears Bleed: Pay The Fucking Writers

*twitch*

*twitch*

*twitch*

Ahem. So.

Stephen Hull, editor of Huffington Post UK, said:

“… I’m proud to say that what we do is that we have 13,000 contributors in the UK, bloggers… we don’t pay them, but you know if I was paying someone to write something because I wanted it to get advertising pay, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. So when somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real. We know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

(Click the link above and listen to the audio. You’ll hear a lot about quality and brands and viral content. Reach and markets and other joy-sucking face-wrinkling terms.)

Hull is, to repeat, proud that they do not pay writers. HuffPo is owned by AOL who is actually Verizon. Not small companies. The audio link notes from Hull that they are a profitable business.

And yet, they do not pay the writers.

And yet, they are proud not to pay the writers.

PROUD.

Because it isn’t “authentic.” To pay writers.

You toxic tickledicks.

You venomous content-garglers.

You thieves, you brigands, you media lampreys.

Let us expose this hot nonsense for what it is: a lie meant to exploit writers and to puff up that old persistent myth about the value of exposure or the joy of the starving artist or the mounting power of unpaid citizen journalism.

The lie is this: writing is not work, it is not fundamental, it is a freedom in which you would partake anyway, and here some chucklefuck would say, haw haw haw, you blog at your blog and nobody pays you, you post updates on Twitter and nobody pays you, you speak words into the mighty air and you do it for free, free, free. And Huffington Post floats overhead in their bloated dirigible and they yell down at you, WE BROADCAST TO MILLIONS and DON’T YOU WANT TO REACH MILLIONS WITH YOUR MEAGER VOICE and THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU.

But it is an opportunity for them, not for you.

When I blog for myself, it’s for myself. It is for my aims. I am free to say what I wish to say and not worry about getting paid (or not getting paid as it were) because I am, in fact, gladly broadcasting into the void. I am not part of AOL. I am not owned by Verizon. I do not have nearly a thousand employees (all of whom would of course be paid). My blog is not a charity, no, but I also don’t ask anybody to work for free. Yes, indeed, I have guest posters, as I did today — but I don’t ask them, I don’t invite them, and they are passively or sometimes actively trying to sell you something. (Plus, this site actually costs me quite a bit of money to host every month.)

Which, by the way, is another component of the lie.

HuffPo would have you believe that not paying means that somehow, the integrity of the information remains intact. What it misunderstands is that, if HuffPo isn’t paying, then who is? Someone is always paying. Or, at the very least, someone is always selling something.

If I work for XYZ Media Conglomerate, I get paid by XYZ to report the news. I am beholden to no one except my own employer — perhaps that employer has an agenda, perhaps it does not.

But if I am an Unpaid Blogger Citizen Journalist Content Rebarfer, I am beholden to — well, who the fuck knows? No money means no checks, no balances. If HuffPo isn’t paying me, you can bet I want somebody to pay me. Coca-Cola or the Koch Brothers Political Engine or Shitmittens, Incorporated. Or maybe I’m just trying to shill my book, my protein powder, my dangle-widgets, my wang-dongles, whatever. Money in journalism will come from somewhere. Better that it comes from one’s own employer than from all angles. We can pretend that money is somehow a corrosive influence, that it corrupts the journalistic process — oh, wait, but Huffington Post is valued at tens of millions of dollars? Hull even says that they’re profitable. Well, of course they are. It’s easy to be profitable when you don’t pay the people.

The only thing money corrodes is my mortgage balance. Money I make from writing slowly and diligently erodes my debts and my bills, thus allowing me to NOT DIE EVERY MONTH.

I want you to understand something:

When you go to Huffington Post, it is primarily made of one thing:

Words. Lots and lots and lots of words.

Hundreds or thousands on a page. Millions at the site overall.

And nobody paid anything to anyone to write them.

Imagine walking into a building and realizing nobody paid anybody to lay the bricks that built the walls. Imagine sipping a drink and realizing that nobody got paid to build the machine that makes the can or what is inside it — nobody got paid to formulate the beverage or drive cases to stores or put the cans on shelves. Imagine that those who made the most fundamental component of the drink — the drink itself — never get paid. They were told that work was a privilege. They were told that to get paid to do those things would somehow make the process crass. It would make it impure. Better to drink a drink made out of love, they would say. Love is an ingredient! They would bellow that as they use a literal rake to rake in profits while those beneath them starve.

The only thing HuffPo has is words, and it chooses not to pay for them.

That is not exposure. That is exploitation.

Writing is work. Most things begin with writing. Though I find writing a pleasure, it is also a thing that requires great mental effort. It is not mere content — that word said almost dismissively, as if it is a synonym for styrofoam peanuts. (And by the way: you actually have to buy styrofoam peanuts. They aren’t free unless you rob them from boxes shipped to you.) Content is not slurry. It’s not protein goo. It’s not mud or air or some readily available resource –

At least, it’s not as long as we don’t let it be.

As I am wont to say, there’s nothing wrong with exposure for writers. It can be useful, provided it is on your terms. But also realize that hikers die from exposure, and writers can die from it, too.

Do not be exposed.

Expose yourself.

NO, NOT LIKE THAT, PULL UP YOUR PANTS.

I mean, be in control of how and when you write for free.

And my advice? Don’t write for Huffington Post. Don’t even share links to there. They’re so profitable by not paying writers? Fine. Demand they pay their writers and until they do, don’t click their links, don’t share their links, don’t speak their name while wearing anything other than a Mister Yuck face. Starve them of content and they will see how precious it is to them.

Pay the goddamn writers.

(See also: an earlier response from Wil Wheaton for HuffPo to reprint his work. For free.)

307 comments

  • I was a reporter for Patch.com, a hyper-local news site owned by AOL. I only made $50 a post, but the editors (maybe a dozen or more in my city) were paid a full time salary. Nothing too exciting, but good pay for kids coming out of college and landing their first real gig. Then AOL hired the queen of the media lampreys to oversee Patch and everything changed. They asked us to find people who wanted to promote their businesses to write for free…to get the “community” to report for free. Then Patch shriveled up and died. And no one is paid.

  • February 28, 2016 at 9:22 AM // Reply

    I’ve done some freelance stuff. The pay was low but I was paid. Fuck Huff, I won’t support them or any big business that cheats writers.

  • Thankyou for saying this. I believe they should pay writers. If it is authentic writing, that should be a even more reason to pay. As they are not only writing under your circumstances but they are letting their true ability out. May you please check out my blog? I am a newcomer and accept costructive criticism.

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! I don’t write for many local, regional and national pubs because they don’t pay. I started contributing to a new Idaho magazine because they DO pay! Imagine that! They have sponsors, but no advertisers. They are subscription based, offering readers 2 free reads a week. And you know what belly aching I hear from readers? Waa, waa I have to subscribe. Yes you have to subscribe! It’s one lousy dollar a week! And I get paid for the articles you pay to read!!! We need to educate readers as much as other writers. Pay the writers!

  • “Toxic tickledicks”, I’ve got to use that. To be proud of not paying 13,000 writers is shameful. HuffPost just lost one more reader.

  • Exactly the same thing as asking artists to do some time consuming piece for free because it’s “good exposure”. You want something done you can’t do yourself? Pay for it. That’s how the real world works.

  • I feel your outrage. Honestly, all they’re getting is any crazy person with time and an opinion. That’s not journalism. That’s Facebook.

    Also, I love your flavorful insults.

  • If writers were payed a decent wage, they might not be very vulnerable to temptations like promotions, etc. If writers were paid a decent wage, they might be MORE “authentic” because they would be less pressured and strained and could simply write what they want to write.

  • This topic sickens me. I was just reading a post a woman claiming to write for HuffPo published earlier today. She claimed that she was proud and that the writers there are happy. I think the first issue is that we should speak for ourselves…

    I’m going to be honest, I used to want to write for the HuffPo for exposure but the moment I read that woman’s article I changed my mind. How much longer are writers going to deal with not getting paid? Writing is work and it’s damn hard work too. Why do you think so many people seek us out? If it was so damn easy they would churn out the content with their soft supple hands instead of relying on our arthritis and carpal tunnel ridden decrepit ones.

    To sit here and pretend like the exposure is worth the labor we put forth is madness. If you aren’t making any damn profit or benefiting in any way you’re simply wasting your damn time. Period. Scammers pose as clients claiming that if you write for them you will get a byline what they don’t tell you is them not paying you is going to make everyone else after them less prone to pay LIVING wages.

    HuffPo might as well have said, “hi guys, we’re running a sweatshop and our writers love it.”

    This entire situation is shameful at best. Two words: I won’t.

  • Hahahaha! Love your humorous sarcasm! I have to agree with you. Some writers might prefer, at the moment, to not have as much exposure because they are still in their learning process. Too much exposure can, in some cases, leave a writer feeling overwhelmed. In my experience, trying to juggle too many things at once can get a little difficult. Of course, many want to connect with others through writing, but mostly because they are trying to start a career with it. Start one, as in still planning what to do. Starting most things will take money, I have found. In a career, you get paid for your work, yes? Also, what gives something value? Demand! If I have supply, and there’s a demand for it, why not ask for money? Do materials not cost money? My point, is that while writers want so badly to share what we have for free(which many do), most still need the income to get by. There isn’t any question of why they should be paid. How about for their time, effort, process, emotions, and everything else that goes into writing anything? It is who they are inside, so they get paid for being them and doing what they do best. Which, by definition, is what any job is. Writers offer their words through as a service. It isn’t any different. Isn’t there a law against employers making workers work “off the clock”? “Off the clock” means without pay or on his/her own time. In any company, even if the “employee” is willingly doing this, isn’t it still not acceptable? For example, I worked at a gas station/convenience store for about a year, once before. It most definitely would have gone against policy if I had of ever agreed to work while not scheduled. This could quickly and easily turn into a lawsuit, also, if the employee for some reason decided they were unhappy. This is big corporate policy stuff here. I am blown away! Thank you for sharing! You got me thinking and questioning, which is something I am falling in love with. Please stop by and chat if you’d like, anytime. I look forward to reading more! Cheers!

  • As I read more and more on this topic I am starting to realize that there are two very different streams of writers weighing in on this topic.

    Both are absolutely right, 100% in their positions.

    You have professional writers who are offering only the quality of their writing as a commodity for which they would like (and deserve) to get paid for. These writers are not trying to develop a celebrity status blog of their own; they haven’t written books that they’re trying to sell; they aren’t an expert in a niche that they’re trying to gain clients for – they have no other financial gain benefit behind their writing. Does “exposure” have any value for these writers? Nope. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

    Then you have writers who are peddling something else… They’re developing their own blog and they need traffic; they’ve written a book, and they need readers/sales; they’re an expert trying to gain new clients to their niche – they have something besides their writing to bring them potential financial gain. Does “exposure” have any value to them? Yup. HUGE amounts value actually. In fact, it’s the kind of value that can’t even be bought. Because the kind of value that comes from exposure that you can get by being featured in a publication that labels you as an expert on your topic of writing is something that no amounts of advertising or money can buy. It’s the Holy Grail of exposure aimed at growing any kind of business.

    So basically, we’ve ended up in a bit of a war between “employees” and “entrepreneurs”.

    You will never convince an “entrepreneur” turned writer that providing content for exposure is “bad” any more than you will convince an employee minded writer that they should give their content away for free.

    The two are after VERY different goals and end results and BOTH are 100% right in their stance on this subject based on the goals they’re looking to achieve.

    It doesn’t really change my previous opinions and position on the whole topic, but perhaps it offers some clarification to those on either side of this debate to gain understanding as to why each side does what they do.

    And I’m sorry, but HuffPo aren’t the bad guy here because they DO provide opportunity to both sides of this fence. If you want to be a “paid” writer for HuffPo (or any other hiring publication) then it looks to me like you need to seriously fine tune your skills and prove to them why they should hire you in their paid staff over the next guy/gal. If you want exposure to build your “business” (whatever that looks like for you) – getting a regular contributors position with HuffPo to reach their millions of readers makes perfect sense.

    And, in my opinion, a blogger who is approached by anyone like HuffPo to provide content (even for free) should take it as a huge compliment as they respectfully and professionally decline the invitation. Because the very fact that a publication approaches them on any level means that they’re doing something very right and it’s been noticed. And if they’re running their own blog, then that’s exactly what they’re trying to achieve.

    Very little in life doesn’t come down to perspective.

    • I feel that they’re proud to offer the opportunity to entrepreneurial bloggers – which basically gives a business free advertising – while also being able to expand the content they can bring to their readers.

      They do pay their staff writers. They don’t pay entrepreneurs for content advertising. Makes sense to me.

    • So what you’re saying is that businesses should get paid to advertise rather than paying for that service? Because entrepreneurial bloggers are businesses first and foremost, not writers. HuffPo pay their staff writers.

      • Sorry for the confusion. I didn’t mean staff writers and entrepreneurial bloggers. I was only referring to the post’s example of writers. I know there are writers who don’t wish to get paid but would value exposure over remuneration, esp if the pay is not worth considering.

        My concern is, if all big publishers are practicing this no-payment system, where will writers get the financial reward for their hard work? Just my two cents, though.

        • I totally understand. But I think a big part of the issue this entire article is addressing has been clouded and caused confusion. “Writers” will get paid by applying for paid writing positions. “Entrepreneurs” will continue to try to get free advertising by providing content to publications and the public. I feel like freelance writers are the ones in the most difficult position because it can be harder to see up front if they’re an employee or entrepreneur – in the sense of their commodity being only their writing or are they selling something else. I also feel like it’s the freelancers who are struggling the most with their own identity in this sense.

          A staff writer, applies for jobs on a salary until they get one.

          An entrepreneurial blogger, provides content to the public by any means possible to attract leads to their revenue generator.

          A freelance writer, looks like a entrepreneurial blogger on the surface, but underneath they’re actually a staff writer wanting a different pay structure (per piece or per word instead of per hour or month).

          Until writers are able to define who they are and what their goals are, this will be an ongoing problem and writers will continue to cry “victim”.

          But in my opinion, they’re not victims of big bad wolves or vultures, they’re victims of not knowing who they are, remaining true to that and making it clear.

  • Amazing.. You write so well. You can change anyone’s mind within fraction of second provided they won’t to understand it.. In mixture of truth, facts and laughter you convey your message.. Inspired from you a lot..

  • wow, they don’t pay their writers?? How dare them? Why do people just accept this? Are people so desperate? If everyone refused to write for them for free this would not happen. But all of the sudden everybody is a writer, or a journalist. It’s insane! Great post!

    • Yes they pay their “writers” on staff who are employees. They don’t pay entrepreneurial bloggers – why should they? Most often bloggers are providing “content” so that they don’t have to pay for ads. Why should they get paid for content advertising when most businesses are the ones having to pay for it?

  • I like your words and the cheeky way you address Huffpo… Or more or less address everyone else about their bankrupt morals. Value is an interesting dichotomy. This blog touches on the big issue of self valuation, knowing what you are worth, and authenticity. Also words have the power to create and destroy, huff po wants to take someone else’s power and use it for their own agenda… without truly valuing what words are worth. Hmmmm How do they sleep at night?

  • I agree. And yet here we are writing for free on WordPress, and generating free content for their ads, or paying them to keep the ads off our sites. What’s the difference?

    Yeah yeah, I know you are paid for your books and you do this by choice, but really, what’s the difference?

      • Got it. I mean, I don’t get it, but I get that you know something I don’t. Regardless, WP has used your writing for their Discover content, which is not entirely unlike what HuffPo does. If you are not WordPress.com, most of the rest of us are, and we put up with the ads or buy them off. Anyhoo, thanks for the response, I know you are not here for the old back-and-forth. Congrats on getting to write a Star Wars book. That must’ve been a special kind of thrill.

  • Oh. Wow.

    I needed to read this.

    All bloggers NEED to read this.

    I wrote recently wrote a blog post which went ‘viral’ – seven major news and media outlets contacted me asking to republish it.

    What happened next?

    The lessons I learnt from this hideous experience will remain with me always.

  • As someone who is, well, a wannabe as of yet I actually agree with you. The idea that I can become more popular if I get published by the Post was at first insisting. The idea that perhaps people will read my blog and I will be well on my way to writing for serious papers. The whole point would be money of course. I am not evil, I have a kid I love, a house I don’t own and a husband that works overtime all the time. So yes, the idea seemed like a good one but I held back. Not only because they don’t pay their writers, but by saying that exposure is worth more than food, we are opening the door for others to agree. Not everyone is a writer, hell I’m not sure if I am one yet. Writing is not easy. It may be a passion for many, but the time and research and editing and re-writing, that should be paid. Writers sleeps less than most people, we do our own overtime. We work twice as hard sometimes and often get turned away regardless. The idea that we don’t deserve to be paid because we do it from the comfort of our homes is ridiculous. Needless to say I will not publish anything on the Huntington Post. People will visit my blog if I am good. Magazines will publish, books will be made, if I am good. If I am not, I will sob for a month and move on. I will not, however, gain false popularity by stabbing the authors I have looked up to in the back. They have had their share of disappointments and let downs. They work hard. They get paid. So will I. We EARN our rent money.

  • Writing something in and of itself is OK but to build text and content is mentally exhausting at times. You should get paid for that effort.

  • I’ve been making a living as a writer for 30+ years. At no time have I been able to pay my mortgage or utilities or grocery bills with “exposure.”

    When the folks at Huffington Post pay for restaurant meals, dry cleaning or whatever, does the disconnect ever pop up? The fact that the money with which they buy what they want/need comes from free writing done by others, who must then do extra work elsewhere to make up for what they didn’t get paid by HuffPo?

    I’ve written about this on my own blog. They say that “information wants to be free,” but writers want to be paid. I’ve also implored writers to stop undervaluing their work. Mostly, I think it’s hopeless. As long as people want to believe that “exposure” is the answer, there will be people waiting to exploit that hope. Dammit.

    • YES. So very well said! My artist friends and I (all three of us are visual artists and writers) discuss this in an upcoming episode of our Art Share Podcast, and we made almost the exact same point – “exposure” doesn’t pay the mortgage, etc. and that other artist/writers have a responsibility to their peers to NOT undervalue themselves because it perpetuates the notion that artists/writers don’t deserve to be compensated. Personally, I’m sick of the argument that “new artists/writers should be able do work for exposure to get their name out there”. NO. Do the hard work, network, and get your name “out there” by showing that you value what you do and that you won’t be exploited. In no other profession are you ever expected to do work for “exposure”. If you were a house painter, would you paint houses for free to get “exposure”? If you were a dentist, plumber, mechanic – whatever? Why then should those in creative professions be expected to do so? Now, Imma go read your blog! :)

  • I don’t understand why people work for free. Exposure only helps if you have other work which you are paid for whose visibility will help pay your mortgage. Just like you stated in your article, the money has to come from somewhere. The bank doesn’t give us our mortgage for free. Our property taxes are certainly greater than zero. Oh and, you know, that eating thing we do.

    -Ashley
    http://strugglingtothrive.com

  • Wow, the not-paying-for-writing scene is even worse than thought it was! Before your (very funny) article I actually respected the HuffingtonPost. Its very sad that writers still go unpaid by the majority of publishers. Thank you so much for taking a stand! I am personally a new-old writer myself and this article definitely gave me a new perspective on the writing community/job market. Speaking of exposure, how DOES one get exposure for their writing anyway?

    ~Philip Othelo
    https://otheloblog.wordpress.com/

  • This post nails it. Hard. Companies that can get anything for free will do it. And then they’ll suck you dry asking for more. The more writers refuse to write for free the more the industry will be forced to pay a decent wage. Writing used to be a great career but wages have declined and, in many cases, quality along with it — it’s pretty obvious when a story is yet another reworked version of a piece off the wire services or a rewritten press release. Why is it that people assume that because they can speak they can also write well?

  • Ha ha ha ha ha! “Toxic Tickledicks” is my new favourite phrase. I once thought I would like to write for HuffPo… until I discovered that they don’t pay their writers. And now I am stuck in this frustrating hamster wheel, constantly told that I need the exposure. Yeah, because I don’t need food or anything, right? And my children will survive if I raise them on exposure… And my husband will not crack under the financial strain as his partner continues to fight for equality in her career. Rant over. But I am definitely reblogging this post. Thank you.

  • Thanks for providing a well-written and provocative article on this topic. I am appalled by the contents, but not surprised. Writers are right to feel outraged, but I feel that sadly the behaviour of HuffPo reflects a growing trend. More and more of the younger generation are being persuaded to continue their studies to university level, so ‘professions’ are becoming less and less about what you know, and how qualified you are, but about who you know, and who knows you. Some organisations like HuffPo take advantage of this by assuming we will work for free for exposure. Others insist on treating minimum wage as the only wage they can offer, regardless of the strains they place on their workforce, or the profit that workforce generate (UK/US businesses increasing the job roles and tightening time limits on tasks to compensate for the upcoming increase in minimum wage to a ‘living wage’ as compared to European businesses operating in the same sector paying well above minimum wage, and reaping the rewards).

    These UK/US businesses are proud of the benefits they pass on to customers by only paying their staff minimum wage, and believe they can get away with such practices because their employees should be grateful to have any job at all in this difficult socio-economic climate.

    Frankly the whole situation is a disgrace, and we at Paw the Love of Earth find it increasingly difficult to accept that so many companies in our supposedly developed world refuse to see the moral or economic value in paying all workers a fair wage for the vital services they provide.

  • I’ll look into this. Honestly writing has been a great experience. I just rarely used original content since I wasn’t getting paid.

  • Artists of all kinds need to learn this, that their work has value and deserves compensation. I’m not sure how the starving artist became a thing, but here we are.

  • I think it is a more complicated issue, I mean what is public, and what is private, and what are the writers intentions? It is pretty cheap to make a stand somewhere and sell your stuff, even the flea market, you have to PAY to get in, but it is a resource with which you can sell your stuff, and make money. Is online space like a mall, where it is a privelidge and a high-rent one to sell your items? I am curious to the free thing, as it would definitely keep the money-looking writers to not aim to huffpos direction, but at what point is it community service, and at what point is it exploited labor? it is a big company, but also woodstock was a big showing, which shot many of its participants into higher stardom, is that what Huffington is trying to capitalize on? the best free things are things friends made, but things that strangers make and strangers consume is not guaranteed to have the same feel.

  • I am surprised that the “working off the clock” mentality hasn’t become the standard for all businesses. I didn’t know this about the HuffPo. However, I am not surprised. I can think of many examples of businesses that manipulate and sustain practices that cause workers to “work off the clock” (even if to just keep up with the workload) and yet, on paper, it all looks legitimate. Whistleblowers find themselves out of jobs. And the dynamic does not change. Historically, we really haven’t gotten much farther than the exploitation of workers from the early Industrial Age. Workers are just children operating dangerous textile equipment without safeguards while the corporate execs are out golfing (with our government representatives). Except its 2016, and not 1870.

  • This is such an interesting and important post. I actually wrote a paper about how writers deserve to be paid for the work that they do. Granted, I understand that it would be difficult for writers to be paid because it is difficult to regulate pay for writers considering some writers do different kinds of writing, but I do believe that writers deserve a pay. Very interesting perspective on this topic!

  • You got me at dangle-widgets. Great article. It put a smile on my face and resolve in my heart, never to read another Huff Post article as long as I live (or until they start paying writers – whichever comes first).

  • I haven’t read anything from HuffPo for a while now since finding out that Arianna Huffington is a thief masquerading as co-founder and editor of the Exploitington Post.

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