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.)


318 responses to “Scream It Until Their Ears Bleed: Pay The Fucking Writers”

  1. Arianna Huffington got extremely rich by having people write gratis and then sold the company, thus being a twice – over parasite. Who are these fucking people and where is their sense of solidarity? Seriously, fuck them.

  2. Echoing Penquillity’s comment at the top, what the bloody fuck?!?! Feel silly not knowing this before today but now that I do, not clicking on an HP piece again. And probably won’t be any less informed by doing so.

  3. First time I found out Huffington Post doesn’t pay I was pretty angry. I mean like…isn’t the founder really, really rich? I’d feel differently if they were just starting out and didn’t have much money.

  4. Have you read the article about this on Huff Media? They wanted to assure everyone that they do pay a salary to their every day writers who come in and work daily, they just don’t pay the freelancers because “reasons”.

    Love how they try weaseling out of it and justifying everything.

  5. the only “exposure” you get from working for free is exposure to the snow and rain when you get kicked out of your house for not paying the bills. i am proud to say i have only ever done two freebies in my life, vowing never to do so again because they accomplished nothing.

  6. As a relatively new blog owner (We’ve been in operation for about 8 weeks), it KILLS me that I can’t pay my writers. It absolutely kills me, because my team works their asses off for me, and the best I can do for them thus far is thank them profusely and get them the occasional press badges to events they want to cover. Meanwhile, I’m paying for the site out of my own pocket, and while we’re approaching the break even point, it will be months before I actually earn anything, and my writers get paid first.

    I have no problem volunteering my work for sites, particularly if the topic in question is something near and dear to my heart and will benefit someone, but I simply can’t afford to give my work away (unless it’s for my own site). Losing my paid writer position right before Christmas has taken a toll, and even though I never made a ton of money, it was money…and it helped.

    That being said, thank you Mr. Wendig, for assuring me that I will never pitch any work to the asshats at Huffington.

  7. The reality of this never hit me until now and I can’t believe it took so long for me to clue in. Thank you Mr. Wendig for the smack upside the head. Consider HuffPo boycotted.

  8. It’s always “screw the author” by convincing them to write for free ( nice pat on the head) or peanuts (pennies for royalties) from newspapers, online newspapers/blogs and publishers. It’s ALWAYS SCREW THE AUTHOR. You are stolen from by pirates to the tune of millions if not billions of dollars; not they think a pat on the head should thrill you. I loved the line in Dark Knight, when the Jokers was telling them if you do something good NEVER do it for free. Authors REALLY need to make that their motto

  9. I had no idea this was the case. I’ve written for sites with massive amounts of content and still got paid. It wasn’t much but it bought a few groceries that week.

  10. HuffPo not paying its writers is the big reason I don’t go there. I had a couple of other reasons, but I’ve forgotten them. This one is sufficient.

    Permit me to quote a well-respected authority on the subject of writers being worth their hire:

    “Separate art and commerce all you like, but whenever I get paid for writing, I giggle like a tickled madman.”
    – Chuck Wendig

  11. I kind of agree, but kind of not. Lots of careers start off at the bottom, often unpaid, eg interns, With writing this is exacerbated by the sheer amount of competition to be published.

    Simply put: if there were less writers, they would be paid more.

    (this is from someone who has been largely, but not always, unpaid for most of his many years writing!)

    • Except it’s not just people starting out at writing. They tried to do this to Wil Wheaton of all people, as if he needed exposure. Then they turned around and published one if there freelance bloggers on the site telling everyone why Wheaton was wrong.

    • Your comment makes no sense. Don’t charge because there is lots of competition out there? Are you mental? Huff Post writers aren’t interns. They’re not “starting at the bottom”.

    • Re: unpaid internships; I firmly believe those are an unethical business practice, too. Slavery is completely illegal in North America (and plenty of other places), but there’s no law that I know of against convincing people to work for free, or stupidly low wages, if it’s on a freelance or “internship” basis. Pish tosh!

  12. I have written non-fiction for only a couple of small publications – shout out to Boston’s Weekly Dig, or the Dig as I think they’re called now – but I got paid; small money for a small contribution. Having a copy of the magazine with my articles in there was great, but getting the check in the post was greater. I’ve blogged my arse off (and would love to do a blog here) for free but I’d never write for an actual company for free.

  13. I feel like this is all true for the media giants and the profit making companies, but its important to remember that smaller publications, especially LGBT or other minority group focused, often start out with no money to pay anyone and rely on contributions until they start turning a profit, and that if they did not do this only people with start up capital could run media sites. Which would often exclude various minority groups from having their own sites run by and for them.

    Autostraddle wrote a really good piece on the nuance involved in this here http://www.autostraddle.com/the-who-pays-writers-conversation-could-use-some-nuance-315366/

  14. He has clarified that they pay STAFF writers, but if you pixel stained technopeasants have content they want, they will not pay for it.

  15. ‘Write articles, don’t create content. And get paid’. Oh, and I think you mean ‘Demand they pay their writers and until they *do*, don’t click their links, otherwise it’s a bit self-defeating.

  16. *Claps hands together in applause*

    I’ve commented before on how Huffington does not pay their content writers. Now I know Huffington is an amazing venue to get your writing noticed, and thus a great form of free promotion. However (and it’s a massive however), this is a company that is proud of not paying ANY writers. A company that states only non-paid for writing is real! Seriously? You know what I say? Bullshit. It’s about them making more money.

  17. Thank you I was THIS CLOSE to drinking the Huffington Post kool-aid. I was thinking, well, what if? What if? It seems that one blogging friend or another is shouting out on Facebook every week about their good fortune, being picked up by Huff Po. Thanks for the reminder.

  18. Look, to preserve the journaly, arty feel of things, they have to starve the artists for that gritty realism. After all, every writer worth their salt has been evicted now and again. There’s nothing like the stream-of-consciousness style of writing that comes from being malnourished. Yes, refusing to pay people for work is an ages old tradition that made our nation what it is today!

  19. Just want to echo the sentiments of everyone here. I’m sick of being asked to write for free. It’s like 25 years of journalism experience counts for nothing. I love writing, but it’s mentally strenuous and so is the bloody research. Why would anyone do it for nothing?

  20. Good topic. Yeah, a lot of places like that have such a mindset. People ask why I don’t write more “cool” high-profile stuff like that; it’s because a boring old corporation you’ve never heard of, but which is generally full of smart people, will give me $1,000 to write 1,000 words of content that takes just a few hours–and folks like this just consider it a privilege to be accepted at all. #@&! that. If you’re talented, and care about money, apply your talent where it gives the best real world returns. If you don’t care about money, that’s cool you have more freedom and can write what you want (if that’s “The 12 Most Embarrassing ‘Mob Wives’ Moments” for HuffPo, by all means go to town). For the rest of us who write to pay the mortgage: no money, no copy.

  21. How about one policy for all: We don’t pay our managers or our executives. This way we know their involvement in the organization is legitimate and comes from the heart. Next, we will stop paying shareholders. After all, they should be proud to play an ownership role in such a great organization.

  22. Recently read something in Huffington Post India. It was a legal article on the law of sedition (currently a very political issue in India). It was obvious the writer was completely clueless about what the law of sedition in India was, its interpretations, the case laws around it and its limitations. I am a lawyer and it was an embarrassing read not to mention the false information it provided. if you are a writer and writing for free for Huffington Post, please remember you are doing a major disservice to other writers and no one is taking your contribution seriously.

  23. I’m all for volunteering, but when a company is making money, it is only fair that it pays its writers. I never click on Huffington Post articles. If I Google a topic and HuffPo pops up, I look for other outlets that covered the same story. There is always a number of options.

  24. From a self-pub angle, I’m constantly bombarded with the advise that my book should be free so I can build a fan base. The hubs and I talked about this blog post last night and he agreed that, hell no, I worked my ass off to create my series and I’m not going to give it away. I’d rather do the slow and steady approach, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to chose that option.

  25. I completely agree and have been telling writers to not give away their writing (unless as you say, on your terms). When I began freelancing in the 90s, I wrote about six articles for free; it was to plump up my portfolio. After that, I only gave away something if it was for an extremely good cause that I believed in.

    Frankly, it’s an insult for anyone to ask a writer to write for free. I always counter with, my dentist won’t give me a filling for free. Due to my unusually high acidic spit, I need lots of fillings, and I can’t buy them with a smile. I can’t even trade one for a short story.

  26. Great article, Chuck. Places like HuffPo are partly why I’m Kickstarting Gamut magazine, and paying ten cents a word. I think they are predatory, and should change their policies.

  27. If you don’t pay the writer, the content is more authentic? What twisted logic. Then we shouldn’t pay actors, either. They can’t possibly be doing good work if they are working for money. Same with painters, sculptors, musicians, and chefs. You’ve convinced me. Time to Ban The Huff.

  28. I’ve never been a fan of HuffPo. It’s so loaded with ads, I can’t click on anything for the first 30 seconds. I have submitted two blog posts to the sound of crickets, but your article has enlightened me. I will join the good fight in getting paid for entertaining.

    Have you ever thought about adding a “donate” widget? Lots of good quality, informative stuff here, Chuck.

  29. I’m in the interesting position of being BOTH a freelance writer AND the Publisher/owner of a digital media website. This places me in the unique position of intimately understanding both sides of this coin.

    As a WRITER do I want to get paid for my time and skill of being capable of writing? Absolutely.

    As a Publisher and business owner can I afford to pay for every piece of content I publish? Absolutely NOT.

    Now I don’t work for the HuffPo and I haven’t done much in the way of current research – maybe they are profitable, maybe they’re not. Sure the audio “says” they are, but let’s face it, they’re competing against the New York Times and Post Media etc… the big boys in the media industry who have been fighting the digital platform for nearly two decades – of course they’re going to “say” that they’re profitable. Plus, people in general want to follow success, not failure. If the HuffPo was publicly stating that they weren’t successful how many people do you think would continue to follow them and contribute to them? How many advertisers do you think would spend money with them? If there’s no advertisers, then there is no money to pay writers… where does the circle start and stop?

    What I do know is that in a recent interview/report regarding the media industry in general, it clearly stated that the HuffPo has never turned a profit – so which is true? Which do we believe? I do know that major media houses are merging and shutting down around the globe because there’s not enough money to support them.

    The problem isn’t that writers need/want to get paid… the problem is that advertisers… businesses… average people… don’t understand digital advertising. They don’t know how to do it effectively, they don’t know how to stack it, they don’t know how to follow-through and they don’t know how to accurately track (or even what to track). So despite the millions to billions of dollars being spent in digital advertising annually, it’s being segmented all over the place as advertisers bounce like a ping-pong-ball all over the flipping place trying to figure out how to reach customers and grow their own business.

    As a WRITER… if you want to get paid for your content, my best advice to you is to find your own sponsors and then approach different publications – and trust me, the smaller publications in particular will embrace you with open arms for that approach. So what does this mean? It means that although you’re a writer, you’ll get much farther by developing some sales skills as well. Approach some businesses who are relevant to your content and ask them if they’d be willing to work with you for certain publications. Tell them that if they’ll consider sponsoring your content that you’ll get them a discount on the cost of advertising with each publication you approach. Then talk to the publication and tell them that if they’ll run your content you’ll bring advertisers on board with them too and that in return for this win-win situation you want 25% of the cost of advertising paid to you personally and you want the business to receive a 25% discount… you then have room to negotiate from there. And what’s your best way to get your foot in the door to do this? Call the sales department with the intent of placing an ad… an ad for the business that you’ve already got on board. 50% of the full price of an ad is a whole lot better to the publication than 100% of zero… which is what so many of them are facing these days. Obviously there’s more details that need to be fleshed out with this concept – but if you’re creative, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

    When a writer approaches me about wanting a job as a journalist or columnist, that’s exactly what I tell them… if you want to write, you have to sell. I’ll split the sales with you 50/50… out of your 50% if you want to give the business a discount, that’s your choice – I get 50% of the full price. It’s called thinking outside the box instead of bitching about what we don’t like.

    The other concept that was sort of touched on above is that of exposure. Sure it’s easy to say that exposure isn’t valuable enough… that your writing is worth more than simple exposure. Really? Because what value are you bringing to me as a Publisher if no one is reading your content and as such I can’t sell any advertising to support what your content is costing me? So what you’re really saying is that I should pay you for writing regardless of whether or not you bring any value to my publication? Can’t see how that’s a win-win. A Publisher includes content in order to bring in more traffic – more readers – because having loyal and consistent readers is what gives a Publisher the value to sell to businesses in order to get their advertising dollars. If none of us have any exposure – there ain’t gonna be any money for anyone.

    Also consider another point on exposure… why are you writing? Simply to have a voice? Just because you have something say? Or do you also have something to sell? Have you written books that you want people to buy and read? Do you write articles to support a product or service that you offer? Because if you are ultimately selling something…ultimately writing because you want customers of your own… then you should be paying the publication for advertising, not trying to get free advertising – or worse to get paid for your own ads – simply because you’re putting it under the guise of an “article”. THIS is why so many publications are willing to run articles that include some kind of product/service endorsement with no money exchange in either direction – both parties are benefitting… the publication is gaining additional content for their audience and the writer is getting free advertising and when handled this way, there’s no need to track the “barter” of services for tax purposes.

    My point is, we should stop and consider all aspects before hauling out the pitchforks and torches. I’m actually not defending HuffPo specifically – I don’t have enough facts on their financial situation or business model to be able to condemn or defend them. But I do know that the overall perspective of this article and the comments is VERY common in all writers (and I actually spend most of my time networking with writers above all else)… I understand this position wholeheartedly… but I also understand the flaws within it.

  30. I was offered a chance to write for for a Quebec based magazine. No pay of course, you know, we’re starting up, can’t afford to pay our writers yet, bla bla bla. I asked them “What do you pay your webmaster? Give me just 80% of what you pay the folks who maintain your website, and I’ll be a happy camper.”

    I never got an answer. And that’s why I’m crowd-funded, and also self-published.

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