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.)

316 comments

  • What the everlasting fuck!?! Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I’ve always considered the almighty Huff-tribe to be oh-so-compassionate to the artists of the universe because of all the cool stuff they post. The little bastards blinded me, as they’ve done to many. Shame on them.
    And shame on the writers who continue to submit to big shots for free.
    Jeannie Leighton

  • Last comment disappeared (it went down with the site, I think. Heavy traffic?)

    Either way, thanks for writing about this, Chuck. And I really just want to say, please, writers (especially new ones) don’t ever devalue your hard work, time, and skills.

  • Honestly, this concept is not just buttrammed into writers. Sooo many fields that are not only important, but often critical, are considered throw away. I’ve worked as a tech consultant and a web designer for many years and I can’t tell you how many people expected my work to be free because they thought it was easy for me to do. Easy or not, I had to spend my own time and money to LEARN to do what you thought was easy, but apparently not easy enough if you couldn’t do it yourself. That’s when I started to institute my half-ass plan. I’d only partially complete the job until I got paid.

    As a writer, I refuse to do “free” work unless it’s specific to my own promotion and I know that in doing that free work, I will gain any number of incentives from new fans to a better paycheck. HuffPo should be starved of content, I agree. I’m onboard.

    • This.

      Also people who have never done a thing don’t know how hard it is til they try it. I’ve had many many people ask me to write scripts for them for free (scripts as in little computer programs that do stuff, as opposed to a movie script or something). They think something that seems simple to them on the user end aught to be trivial for the person making it, and that’s not always (or even often) the case.

      The last few times someone has tried to wheedle me into doing something by saying “come on, it’s just a simple little thing, this should be easy for you!” I have responded with “If it’s so easy, why don’t you do it?”

  • This reminds me of an article I read on book marketing recently (by a book marketing professional). The article bemoaned the fact authors complain about not being successful when they won’t do the necessary work to make it so. To authors who feel marketing is optional, this marketer asked in what job do you do zero work and make money? My head exploded. I’m sure this marketer is well meaning, and they too are trying to make a living. I don’t mean this to be a rant against any specific person. But this points to an ugly fact. It’s a common belief that writing is not actually work. We do it for fun. In our spare time. While our families support us or we live off our trust funds.

    I find it difficult to market, yes. I have a day job. I have two children. I have a partner who works full-time at HIS day job, and likes to have some of my time. I have mountains of dirty laundry. I have a new house that needs paint, repairs, fencing (and imagine this list just continues as long as your arm).

    I write books in the spaces in between, and trust me on this, IT IS NO EASY WAY TO WRITE A BOOK. In fact, there IS NO EASY WAY TO WRITE A BOOK. Not a good one, anyway. Please don’t minimize the fact that I must dig (until I bleed) into my available time and mental resources and suffer all the well-documented trials and tribulations of the writerly life to produce a bucketful of words that I feel are genuine and heartfelt and that I hope will slake the thirst of at least one other person. And if I manage to do this, please don’t suggest that this alone is not worthy of compensation.

    • “The article bemoaned the fact authors complain about not being successful when they won’t do the necessary work to make it so. To authors who feel marketing is optional, this marketer asked in what job do you do zero work and make money?” — Just out of curiosity, are you sure the marketer in question wasn’t talking about “work” as in, specifically related to “marketing work”, and not the creative process of writing, editing, re-writing, etc?

      As much as I would love to be on the “YES, AUTHORS SHOULD ALWAYS BE COMPENSATED FOR THE TIME THEY PUT INTO THEIR WORK!” cheer squad, as Chuck himself has pointed out on this here blog (I tried to find the blog post in question, but my email archives don’t want to seem to go earlier than 2014 for terribleminds — perhaps Chuck himself could supply the link?) writing, like music, or film, is an entertainment industry. You’re trying to sell something to somebody who has no reason to buy YOUR product over any of the other ~160 new products per day (terribleminds: 7th October 2014). I recall reading in some hazy, potentially alcohol-fuelled moment, that Chuck spends a staggering amount of time marketing his own books, quite apart from what his publisher does. Not just through this blog, but through twitter, and conventions, and something about a giant blimp over the Superbowl (though I might have imagined that last one).

      I’m probably quoting Chuck verbatim here, but even if you have the next bestselling novel, it’s not going to sell unless you sell it. Somebody needs to market it. If not the author, or the publisher, then somebody whose job it is to sell things. Maybe that’s the sort of “work” the marketer in question was referring to?

  • I get tired of shit-dingles asking me to write free stuff. I do it sometimes, but on MY terms. Usually for friends .It sounds like huffington post is happy with the arrangement (and why wouldn’t they be) but it also sounds like there are about a metric shit-ton of writers that are volunteering for this duty. I mean, Huffington isn’t knocking on people’s doors, threatening them with eternal obscurity if they don’t write for free. Those writers are volunteering.

    Having said that, the attitude behind this snide dick-warbler’s statements is beyond galling. Frankly, I hope he has the same attitude about his surgeon and his lawyers. You wouldn’t want to have the professionals in your life acting without authenticity. Best to proceed on free legal advice and get your operations done by Doctor Nick on the grease-stained table behind the machine shop for authenticity.

  • There is a huge gap between being able to do something, and being able to do something well. The latter comes after years of practice, training, blood, sweat, drive, and sheer bloodymindedness. And if one puts in all of that effort in order to be able to do something well, one damn well deserves to be paid for it.

    It isn’t “authentic” to pay writers, bollocks. HuffPo can kiss my ass.

  • The entitlement of “Free” rears its ugly head for a second time in front of me this week.

    I just don’t get it. When did people assume “Well, it’s going online so I don’t have to pay for it.”

    There is a big difference between making the decision to give it away, and exploiting that.

    Wow. Just….wow.

  • “I’m proud to say that what we do is that we have one editor, Stephen Hull… we don’t pay him, but you know if I was paying someone to edit something, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. So when somebody edits a publication for us, we know it’s real. We know they want to edit it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

    Said Stephen Hull, never.

  • Ugh, the scourge of the industry…people trying to scam you for free writing. Thank you for calling it out. Won’t go anywhere near HuffPo for this reason.

    The newest line I heard recently was, “Well, we don’t pay writers, but we offers ‘company shares’ and if the site is successful you could make money down the line.” “Company shares” in a new website don’t pay for my groceries. How many ways are people going to rephrase “I’m a cheap bastard”?

    I think Hull’s blatant rationalizations and excuses take the cake, though.

  • Thank you, Chuck. I have (voluntarily, happily) shared this post via a free tweet and a free Facebook post, exhorting my fellow writers and readers to BOYCOTT HUFFINGTON POST. I don’t use caps often…so when I do, my readers know I MEAN BUSINESS.

  • I’m a writer, and I believe we should be paid for our words. But, to play devil’s advocate, why do people continue to write for HuffPo knowing they’re not going to get paid? It seems a little odd to go into a situation knowing you aren’t going to get paid for your work, only to turn around and complain about not being paid. When I consider writing for a website, the first question I’m asking is “Do I get paid and, if so, how much?” I won’t write for free, so if the answer is no I just move on. This is why I’ve done very little writing on the web. Most of these websites don’t pay their writers. Arguably, they are a great way to build up your audience if you’re, say, working on building your own platform. And that works for some folks. It doesn’t work for me.

    Seems to me that if we—writers, collectively—stop writing for these websites, they’ll have to start offering payment.

  • I knew there was a reason why I had that insatiable feeling that Huff Post was a bunch of runny shit… I already personally boycott that site (and Facebook Page) because of the mindless meandering on there. Now I have an even better reason. Great post, Chuck.

  • There’s nothing wrong with writing for free for the exposure – that’s marketing. Hull may feel the dick-suck in all this or is just trying to spin it that way but get serious, 13K writers are not “contributing” to the Ho to feel proud. Pants are being dropped here alright but it’s Hull who’s rushing to defend the Ho’s pimp-mentality integrity. I’m not going to judge the writers because I suspect most are smart enough to wear a condom.

  • “And by the way: you actually have to buy styrofoam peanuts. They aren’t free unless you rob them from boxes shipped to you.”

    I was with you right up until this point. Who are you robbing them from if they were freely given to you as part of the shipping and packaging of something you (presumably) legitimately purchased? A much better word to use here would be “reclaim” or “reuse.”

    • Yep. Scary spooky I just came from Kristen’s latest post on this topic to here. Way to go, Chuck. If enough big names shout it out maybe those holding the purse strings will start to listen. Us small fry don’t have much of a voice alone.

  • My favourite comment was from a patron when I was a box office manager for a live theatre company she told me “if you charged $5 bucks a pop you could fill the place!” The patron was SHOCKED we had expenses including paying the actors. Who didn’t do it for the “love of acting?” Not paying creative people for their work is disingenuous coming form a profitable company.

  • When I published my crappy little zine with a circulation of 300 I paid contributors. When my website makes money I pay article writers and forum moderators a share of the ad revenue. My website isn’t a hobby, it’s my sole source of income.

  • There’s a word for it, Geeksplotation. Instead of free Mountain Dew in the place of benefits, it’s the promise of exposure for the dream of being a writer. It’s insidious, really.

    And there are so many people who are excited to be writers that they jump in feet first right into the pit of For The Exposure, not realizing how they make it a deeper pit for everyone else that’s trying to make this work for reals.

  • February 18, 2016 at 4:12 PM // Reply

    You know, if all those writers could be convinced to stop writing for free, the HuffPo (and other profiteering services like Medium, etc.) wouldn’t be able to carry on. Maybe someone should tell them not to do that.

    As long as writers are still willing to write for free, sites like HuffPo will continue to exist, because they can. And in all seriousness, it seems likely there will always be someone ready to do it for no pay.

    • Perhaps, but if enough writers refuse they can drive down the quality and profitability of those seeking to exploit them and improve the quality and profitability of companies willing to pay. Someone will probably always write for free but we have to fight it becoming normal.

    • Unfortunately, I think you’re right that there will always be someone ready to write for free. I wrote a freelance column for a paper for three years, and got paid. Like all print pubs these days, their profits started to suffer, so in came more canned content and less original and local writing, and then they axed me and all the other freelancers. They ever so kindly offered me the chance to continue to write my column for free, and seemed slightly surprised when I said “hell no.” But they still managed to find several people to really put the “free” in freelance. I’d like to think the new “volunteer” writers, and the paper’s readers had no idea, but maybe they did and just didn’t care.

  • I read about Huffpo not paying writers from Will Wheaton and somewhere else, though can’t remember where now, and when I said something about how writers are somehow expected to write and deliver valuable content for free, I was told that no one owes me a living, and that I shouldn’t expect to get paid. But many people do it anyway, just so they can tout that byline and saying, yep, I’m a real validated writer because I write for Huffpo. Those same writers are probably removing that credit off their bios right now.

  • Oh man, Chuck. I’ve read you for years and you just keep getting better and better and more on-point. I cannot tell you HOW MANY TIMES I’ve worked with artists in these guilds here in NYC or the support groups back in Joplin that didn’t realize that they didn’t have to get exploited all day long for groundbreaking work. So crucial.

    This reminds me of the #saynotospec campaign:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=essNmNOrQto&w=560&h=315%5D

  • Nice post. Thank you. I suppose that HuffPo thinks that not paying the writers will pay the rent and bills so they still have writers to work for free. Since we all know that you can live rent free, internet is free and food does not cost a thing.

  • Put it this way: if someone *is* willing to pay you for your work, you’re going to submit it there.

    If no one else takes it, you start a blog at Huffpo and hope those bigger players can see you’ve got chops to write for them.

    Writing is not like hard labor; lots more people want to do it than there are jobs available. This is the unfortunate effect of supply and demand.

    All that said, Huffpo is making millions off of people’s dreams of being a writer.

  • I used to work as a reporter and copy editor for a large metropolitan newspaper. A few years after I left to become a book editor, the newspaper laid off almost their entire staff—including ALL of the copy editors—and went to the HuffPo free-blogger model. Let’s just say that my loyalty to them has vanished. And when I explain to people what happened, the remark is almost always, “Oh, I’d wondered why the articles had gotten so bad.” If you’re looking for quality, hire professionals; if you just want higher profits, go with whatever you can get for free.

  • For a wee while now HuffPost articles have been turning up linked to headlines in the Sydney Morning Herald online newspaper. I wonder if HuffPost supplies them for free? ….nah, didn’t think so I get that when the HuffPost first started, they weren’t making $ – not that being non profitable excuses anyone for not paying contributors – but when nobody is making $, at least everybody is sharing the nothing . Now they’re turning over 150mil (2014). Apparently still not making profit – but when you’re turning over that much $, you don’t get to not pay people without everyone seeing you as a first grade a-hole.

  • Something you alluded to but didn’t come out and say is the effect of that free labor on that actual writing. I’ve never considered HuffPo to be what I would call a quality publication. This isn’t about political slant, but about actual writing and research quality. Yes, there are some gems here and there, but, on average, their quality is sub-par. I honestly believe it’s because they rely so heavily on free writing. See, besides those using the platform for journalistic product placement, there are two other groups willing to write that kind of stuff for free, the new writer and the not very good writer. Relying on free writing means you almost assuredly get someone who’s new, not very good, has an (very) ulterior motive, or some combination of the three. How can you expect a quality product when those are your main producers?

  • I’d seen the facts in a few places, but never with such a visceral fire behind the words. Thank you for putting in the time, effort, and passion to light a fire in the rest of us. I’ve blocked their whole URL from my Chrome.

  • I think Mr. Hull should put his money where his pride is, and reject that salary HuffPo is paying him to edit all that free prose. That way, we’ll know his editing is REAL, that nobody is forcing him to add those commas or move those semicolons (or select what topics get coverage). If I did read HuffPo, I’d want to read those articles secure in the knowledge that Mr. Hull WANTED to edit them. I hope, because I’d like to be as proud of Mr. Hull as he is of his publication, that he also rejects all the benefits that go with his salary, starting with the paid holidays, paid vacation, and retirement. We’d all be so proud of him then!

    And while we’re on the subject, the people presenting the best and brightest ideas at TED talks don’t get paid either.

  • Glad you didn’t link to the publication. They are link hungry witches. Sorry, I wanted to say another W letter word, but, well, I’m attempting to be professional..

  • Thank you! I’ve been saying that for years, but not as bawdily or as eloquently or as downright hysterically. “tickledicks”? I won’t share HuffPo, but I shared this.

  • Most of the people who write for HuffPo are not writers. They are people who have goods or services to sell and are looking to positions themselves as “experts” in that subject–thus why they are willing to write for free. The writing is just marketing.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly, but that is why HuffPo will never run out of suckers willing to write for free.

  • I will probably get lynched for even suggesting that there is an alternate opinion that might have merit here, but let me just put this out there…

    If you give a repurposed (i.e. already written) article to a website like HuffPo, and they link to your website, where you are selling something valuable (your books, for instance), and their 100 million readers a month click that link and buy something from you…

    You just got paid.

    If even a handful of their readers click the link and buy something from you, would that be valuable?

    I’m not saying that everyone should rush right out and immediately sign up to let HuffPo reprint their stuff. Maybe that’s not worthwhile to you. But I think everyone in the world already KNEW that HuffPo doesn’t pay (that’s ALWAYS been their business model, from the very beginning — this is honestly not news), so blowing up over the guy stating the facts when you could turn them to your advantage seems to miss the point.

    The point is: there’s a ton of eyeballs on their site. You can turn those eyeballs to YOUR site, if you give them a piece to republish, where you get a byline and a link.

    If you don’t want to write for them, don’t.

    If you don’t want to try to make money off of them by trying something like the idea I mentioned, don’t.

    Ultimately, every writer has to make their own decisions. Not all of them are about the bottom line. I certainly don’t read articles from HuffPo, precisely because I know they don’t pay their writers. But a lot of people do. So why not take advantage of that fact?

    • Writing for The Huffington Post is a quid pro quo. They don’t pay–they make no promises of payment–and the blogger may or may not gain some exposure.

      I’ve blogged for THP several times when I was attempting to promote my book. Blogging for their book section is a waste of time. The posts I wrote there didn’t help me sell so much as one copy of my book. However, the op-ed I wrote in 2012 prior to the presidential election, defending my vote for a third party candidate, generated over 100 comments had the incidental effect of helping sell ten copies of my book. I doubt too many readers bother to go beyond Huffpo’s front page anyway.

      The posts at THP usually run about 1,200 words or less (that’s the length cap their editors prefer). Most writers can turn out a 1,200-word blog post without back breaking effort and often write as much or more on their own blog for the same reason, to draw attention to their products. If your going to put in the effort without pay, you may as well go for the venue with the best opportunity for discovery. Much if not most of the content at THP is thinly-disguised promotional copy which wouldn’t be published elsewhere anyway; you’re not losing a sale to a paying publication. THP is letting you advertise on their site for free. Do you have any idea how much display ads in a national publication cost? Nobody at THP is waterboarding writers to blog for them. It’s your choice. I would always prefer being paid for my effort: in an ideal world, I would be, but we don’t live in one. It’s extraordinarily hard to promote yourself at no cost when you’re just one of miliions of nobodies all vying for attention. You grab the opportunities you can wherever you can.

    • No, blowing up over Hull is not missing the point. I already knew HP don’t pay. Would I say I’d never ever write for them? No, couldn’t say that for sure. Except maybe till now. Because it’s bad enough they don’t pay when they’ve got the dosh. That’s being used. To have my face squished into it by a salaried editor who’s basically saying your words are nothing? Fuck that. I’ll keep my dignity and take my chances elsewhere, thanks. Fuck him and fuck them. They can fucking well get fucking fucked.

    • That is generally the promise they seduce you with. The waving of a lottery ticket. The passing of the buck by saying, well, blog for us and maybe just maybe you’ll earn that money back in book sales and followers and fans and probably ponies, too. And you might. But given their click through rate? Probably not. The better, more honest, more “real” way to make it work is a time-honored classic: pay the writer.

  • Amen! Thank you! I wrote a couple things for Huffington. Then I realized . . . what you said. I’m working for free, and nobody gives a shit what I publish there, so why bother? Keep telling it, brother. Pay the writers already.

  • And then! Oh, the words! Oh the words! Words! Words! Words!
    There’s one thing I hate! All the WORDS! WORDS! WORDS! WORDS!

    And they’ll scribble joy-suckers, racing round on their wheels.
    They’ll dance with face-wrinklers tied to their heels.
    They’ll blow their tickledicks. They’ll bang their content-garglers.
    They’ll spin their shitmittens. They’ll slam their rebarfers.
    They’ll beat their dangle-widgets. They’ll wham their wang-dongles.

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