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

  • This is brilliant, thank you for writing this!
    This whole holy and grand mantra of “your-remuneration-is-being-published/the-exposure” deserves to be exposed for how exploitative and unethical it is.
    I’ve been writing in newspapers and blogs and news-sites since four years and I have gotten paid a total of two times during all of that. It isn’t about money even, it is about basic professional ethics that involve someone’s work but guess writing isn’t work, it’s all fun and hobbies.

  • I am a music critic. I write about music and I care a great deal about my work. I have to eat, too, so if I did not get Social Security I could not write or travel to hear the operas about which I write. White men used to get paid for doing exactly that. No that the profession is open to more types of people, no one gets paid. I don’t think that’s fair.

  • This blog inspired a dream last night. It was quite detailed, but the end bit was the inspirational bit. I was planning, with another artist, to publish a comic strip, or maybe just a one panel thingy: the world has become a desolate wasteland, and a child says to her grandparent: “What happened Grandad?” He replies “They refused to pay writers and artists, and now we have nothing.” I think I totally need to make and post that image.

  • Amazon just changed their payout structure yet again and are now paying writers a ridiculously low amount of money. It’s financially crippled most writers who were making their living off of Kindle sales. This needs more exposure, too. Pretty lousy to write a book, sell it for only a dollar, yet see only thirty cents of it… if that.

    Anyway, yeah – pay your writers!

  • Perhaps if the writers refused to write for HuffPo and instead wrote on their own blogs and marketed the shit out of their writing, HuffPo might be incentivised to pay them. Or not.

    Because with 13,000 bloggers, my guess is a whole shitload of them would get zero hits on their “authentic” writing without the HuffPo home. So what is that worth? What would Chester McShitwhistle get paid by hosting on his own blog? Assuming his blog “The Happenings of the North Cotswolds Hydrangea Society” is even read at all.

    I don’t know. Too many outlets for bloggers these days. I’m not going to get my panties in a twist because HuffPo doesn’t want to toss a few sheckles to bloggers.

  • February 21, 2016 at 10:15 PM // Reply

    The Austin music scene has some of the same problems. Everyone expects music for free. After all, there is the “exposure.”

    • Everyone expects everything for free. Look at the heat papers take for paywalls. Hell, we have a presidential candidate who thinks college should be free — and a bunch of people apparently agree. Everyone wants free shit.

      • That’s the most logical comment made so far. The question is, where does the money come from to pay for all this free stuff? If consumers aren’t willing to pay for the stuff they want, who pays the bills? Doesn’t matter if it’s education, creative materials or an oil change. People have to provide the product or service. They want to get it for free but they don’t want to give it for free. The irony is that the very artists (writers, illustrators or musicians etc) who are angry about not getting paid are also the very consumers who also won’t pay for many of the things they want. All these people here boycotting the HuffPo, have you all turned around and PAID for subscriptions with the NYT instead? Maybe some have, but I guarantee not everyone has.

        The Internet has been a wonderful invention from many different angles, but it is also a catalyst in many economic problems that we all face. So what’s the answer?

        Yes we all want to get paid for our time, skills and talents – no one argues that point, even HuffPo wouldn’t argue against that. But where does the money come from?

        A post like this has gained a lot of attention and lots of opinions. But all I see is complaining. Why don’t more people offer suggestions? This is a real economic problem and if the big players can’t figure it out and the people aren’t happy – then let’s work together to find a solution. There has to be answers out there.

        • If I wasn’t earning below the poverty line, with my partner paying for everything and my self-esteem in tatters along with my health, I’d certainly be paying for subscriptions. You made an important point, that we do grow a little entitled in our expectation that stuff is free. Sometimes I wonder if the whole free economy thing isn’t pointing to the way things might be in the future. Sounds utopian, but a new financial system would give us freedom we can only dream about in the slave model we’re suffering in now, with its debt that keeps us constantly behind, constantly needing to grow the economy to pay for the debt given to us by excdeedingly rich people. It’s insane. The Catholic Church has a lot to answer for but its condemnation of charging interest (usury) for centuries we commendable. They could see the ramifications of the rich entangling the people.

          But yes, the money has to come from somewhere and if we don’t support the outlet we wish to pay us, then there’s a bit of a problem with that. Huffington Post, however, has Verizon, and none of us need to pay to support that.

          I think the reason why people haven’t offered suggestions to alternatives in publishing models that will pay writers is that the situation we find ourselves in is so damn complex that a bunch of writers couldn’t come up with the answers if others haven’t so far.

          Our financial system is falling apart, and since 2008 has been bolstered when it probably should have just been allowed to collapse and we could start again in sanity. But we live in an oligarchy where a few exceedingly rich people are pulling the purse strings and the bank strings. The money, if we lived in a sane society (and hopefully one day some of us will see the flourishing of that as the current one finally dies) would be pegged to the earth, not to the oil, the guns, the other elements of destruction.

          Fuck I hate finance. Is there anything more boring? And yet I find myself thinking about it so much. It’s the almost-invisible underpinning of so many of our woes. I blame Charles Eisenstein and his Sacred Economics for getting me into such a dull area. That book opened my mind up to the history of money, of how people traded in the past, of how we really ultimately don’t even need money at all. That truly blew my mind. We really don’t need money at all.

          So alternative models? I don’t know. Writer-run cooperatives, maybe? Co-ops work wonderfully in other situations where work is precarious. Why not in publishing?

          A universal basic income makes sense if our culture isn’t going to fall into total chaos. And that’s doable too. America could cut down on its insane defence budget and be able to pay its citizens a decent UBI. Make the multinationals pay their taxes. A UBI would dismantle the welfare system. It’s about redistribution, from the top where it’s all congealed, back down to the people where it belongs. We would be able then to write beautiful stuff, the stuff our hearts yearn to write, not the stuff that’s gonna clickbait some wads into our bank accounts if we’re lucky. Writing for pay would be a pretty awesome side benefit, and we’d all be more relaxed in our quests to get there, too, if we didn’t have to scrabble whoring ourselves out for Dave Graeber’s shit jobs

          But what do we do in the meantime? I don’t know. I wish I did.

          • What an awesome reply Sue, you make some valid points. I’m not well versed in politics, it’s an area I’ve avoided most my life lol. From what little I have read about different systems, there’s pros and cons to everything and lord knows it creates heated debates from all corners, always has. My own opinion is that everything seems to get taken to extremes and that’s where the problems surface. Too much of a good thing can be just as damaging as too much of a bad thing. The Internet is seen as a good thing, but it could be argued that it’s no different than a plague (and I’m a huge techie).

            We as writers might not be able to solve the world’s plight of politics and finances, but we’re a smart and creative bunch, surely with the right conversations we could solve our own issues?

            For several years I’ve been trying to encourage a system of collaboration in publishing. You’re right that it seems to work well in many industries, so why can’t it work in publishing?

            The biggest resistance that I’ve come across is that for decades the big media moguls have held a monopoly – they’ve held the power. To the point that they became both greedy and complacent. So they don’t seem to want to play nice with each other. Each major media outlet wants to be the biggest, so rather than working together they all fight and struggle on their own. It makes no sense to me. Bloggers should band together under one umbrella and share traffic with each other and then the increased traffic will attract advertisers that the bloggers could then share and then everyone would be making money. It’s not rocket science in my mind.

            I also think that too many people took the Internet too lightly, like it was a toy, a fad that would fizzle out eventually. But over the course of two decades it’s just been getting bigger and bigger, and it’s only been in recent years that the masses have started to understand the economic problems it’s been causing.

            While this won’t be a popular opinion, I can’t help but wonder if the big players couldn’t be doing more to reign it all in. Right now it’s so easy for everyone and anyone to start up an online presence (me included). It can be free or cheap, it’s easy, and there’s no quality control of any kind. If it wasn’t all so open, less people would jump on the band wagon. If people had to put in more of an effort, or go through more of a process – either a cost factor or approval requirements – I think there might be less of a negative impact. But we all feel so entitled to do what we want. Could you imagine the uproar if the Internet was no longer so incredibly open? So I don’t know the answer to that dilemma either.

            But something needs to be done about publishing from all angles. Supply and demand is what drives the value of anything. When there is an abundant supply and lack of demand, the value drops. When there’s a limited supply and a high demand value increases. That’s a basic concept since the beginning of time.

            Right now our society is in a state of information overload. There is such a huge supply of content… articles, books etc., and much of it doesn’t even have any demand, so why would anyone pay for it? Even I’ll read stuff simply because it happens to be there, but I don’t necessarily care about it and I wouldn’t read it if I had to pay for it because it’s not something I actually want or care about – maybe I was just bored and a certain piece happened to be in the right place, at the right time for me to read it and that’s what everyone who jumps into providing content is hoping for in order to be “discovered”.

            My opinion right now is that one way for us all to solve the problem of too much supply, is for quality providers to band together. Create networks of blogs that DO have a demand. Provide QUALITY content that people really do want, work together and share the traffic so that advertisers want to pay to reach our traffic. Then only provide limited advertising opportunities so that the advertising space actually has value because the demand is greater than the supply.

            Aggregators almost had the right idea, but they just took the content links and would send traffic all over the place. Then when they tried to monetize that traffic content providers freaked out and started suing aggregators because the aggregator was making money off other people’s content. Totally understand the position of the content providers in that scenario, but at the same time, why the hell didn’t they clue in to the fact that the aggregators were on to something that the consumers liked and that it COULD be monetized??

            Then they could have created their own aggregator scenario of approved content from approved partners and they’d all make money. They can still do this, if they’d learn to play together.

            Am I missing some major basic flaw here? Because this really makes sense to me but no one is doing it. I’ve been trying, but I’m just a little guy who runs a small local publication that’s now digital. I don’t have enough traffic of my own for anyone to pay attention to me. But in the 6 years that I’ve been pondering, researching and building this type of a setup I haven’t been able to come up with a valid reason as to why it won’t work.

          • Tanya Jones – I couldn’t reply directly to your comment so hopefully this works.

            I think we’re in agreement that the answer lies in banding together. How do you think your idea would go in an age of ad-blocking increase though? Have something like “native advertising” where sponsored posts are written? Charge door entry?

            I think people are so resistant to paying for stuff online that it’d want to be super awesome quality writing to attract people. Are there enough people online looking for intellectual stimulation rather than clickbait distraction? I guess there are, right? I mean, you don’t need to attract the entire internet, after all

          • Hey Sue, yup that worked.

            Ya I do agree that banding together is one possibility that could make a positive difference. I also agree that awesome quality is a must, though when individuals or small groups are controlling their own sections I’m not sure how it would be monitored – because it’s not so much that it would be a bunch writer’s hired by one company to write… it would be a bunch of bloggers with complete control over their own sites within a collaborative environment. Currently I use a WordPress Multisite environment for this and it works well (http://panopticnews.com – the menu item across the very top of the page are all the different “sections” or “sites” within this network). Of course there are some limitations but they could be resolved with customization as necessary.

            True that ad-blockers are a concern, though currently they’re still not fully utilized by the masses. But it’s still worth addressing before it becomes a problem. One of the downsides is that advertisers have been trained to want stats in terms of impressions and clicks on the square and rectangle ads they purchase throughout the Internet. Yes there’s a certain amount of logic to that… however… most of the stats that are being provided are either wrong (due to the huge variances that stat packages provide) or they’re inflated because the company selling the advertising wants it to look good and justify their prices.

            However, if advertisers will learn that the number of impressions and clicks on a little square isn’t the be-all and end-all of tracking their advertising, then that portion of the ad could be displayed using basic image rotators that ad-blockers don’t block… then, those squares should be linked to very specific Landing Pages… a page that is “actually” about whatever the ad is focused on (most businesses just link to the home page of their website – which is completely pointless) and that Landing Page then contains all the relevant key ingredients to effective advertising (which marketers seem to have completely forgotten about in the world of digital advertising).

            The Landing Pages can then be any number of things… they could be an educational article, a video, images, descriptions… whatever is necessary and appropriate for each particular ad and truly embrace the power of multi-media-marketing… and they should include a call to action and ideally a means to capture leads. (Aside from providing the advertising space and delivery as an option for revenue, copy creation for this material could be a revenue source for some as well.)

            For delivery, they should then be mixed in with the content posts so that they are serving up to the audience through emails and social media the same way that the content is… they’ll also be picked up by search engines. Stats would then be more relevant on the exposure of these Landing Pages and businesses would actually end up with more tangible results as they collect leads, and track conversions (which is completely lacking in the current model of digital advertising).

            I also think that digital ads should be priced based on flat rates that reflect the realistic size of the readership – the same as every other marketing medium – not by impressions and/or clicks which can so easily be manipulated.

            The bigger the collaboration gets, the more opportunities there are for segmenting ads by specific topics – which is how ad inventory can be increased over time, while still putting limits in place to drive up demand.

            Geez, I could talk about this stuff all day lol.

        • If they aren’t paying for it, they’re not consumers in the traditional sense. They’re free riders. In 1999, people asked how a company that made nothing and did nothing could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars — the answer? It couldn’t, and it wasn’t. In the first decade of this century, people who had no income were getting mortgages and house prices were appreciating at ridiculous rates. People asked: How could someone with no income afford a $500,000 house? They couldn’t. So how can an economy survive when people want everything for free? Or they want/expect to get paid more than their labor is worth? It can’t and it won’t.

          • You asked, ” How could someone with no income afford a $500,000 house?” That’s the wrong question. Nobody asked that–nobody’s asking that. The right question is, “If I give a $500,000 loan to someone with no income, WHO WILL BUY THAT LOAN RISK FROM ME?” And the answer was One Metric Fuckton of banks who turned around and repackaged that bad loan with some good ones and cashed out on the default insurance *and* the profits from the repackaging.

            This is not far from the original issue. No one is asking, “How can a writer with no income eat and live off ‘exposure’?” They are asking, “If I have those words I did not pay for, WHO WILL BUY THE REAL ESTATE AROUND THEM FOR MONEY?” And the answer to THAT is One Metric Fuckton of Ad-serving systems who will then turn around and sell that space to the individual companies who buy from them.

            How can a company who made nothing and did nothing make money? That right there is your answer.

            (Also the FREE COLLEGE HERE bit is misleading. That’s not actually free–it’s a choice to go from taking tax dollars everyone will pay anyway away from some other areas like extra double bonus stealth fighters and put those dollars towards teaching kids how to build and fly the ones we already have. It’s a shift in allocation of resources, much like HuffPo could shift some of their resources from an overpaid windbag of an editor to tip money for the bloggers who make their content.)

  • Thank You for writing this! Perfectly said. Amazing how the Editor of HuffPo thinks he should be paid for the work he & their employees do but all the writers whose content they sell for ad dollars shouldn’t be! Can you say “EXPLOIT”?? I think all their salaries should be put on hold for a month, let’s see how many of them go into foreclosure?

  • I think the worst outcome of this situation is what no one else has said. It used to be writers wrote highly paid commercial work in order to fund their literary aspirations. Now writers do minimum wage jobs to fuel their dreams of writing commercial click-bait and listicles. It’s like the race to the bottom has become so fast and fiercely competitive that we cant even stop to see how ridiculous it is.

    Why are so many writers striving so hard to write vapid fluff for free? At least if the work on Huffpo was intellectually engaging and interested in raising the bar, I could maybe see the value of posting for free, but to spend so much mental energy and time on unpaid, lowest-common-denominator commercial work baffles me.

    Literature as an art form is a relic of the 20th c., we simply have no mental space for it anymore.

    Also, writing for Huffpo (nonstaff) is poison to an aspiring writer’s career, in terms of portfolio building. Worthwhile editors know the 411 and wont be impressed with your slave-writing.

  • Excellent information I can understand your view because we should get paid for writing;on the other hand, writing for for Huffpo will get you noticed. And if you are luck they will click on your ads,so that you can get paid.

  • 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.

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