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. Never have I agreed so much with the content of an article, but been so disappointed as to how it was written. Yes, you are outraged Mr. Wendig, as are we, but your writing style choice, with all of your cute little flourishes, is annoying and distracting. Your showboating detracts from your (very important) point.

  2. I can’t believe Stephen Hull said that. I’m at a loss. So thank you for articulating so many things I would say if I wasn’t in shock. (How can these kinds of bullshit justifications still shock me?!)

  3. Never mind the Huffington Post…Welcome to Jeff Bezos’ World! Nothing new. Nothing to see here. Please keep walking. Never mind the starving artist on the street, they simply weren’t ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ enough to earn your $0.99!

  4. The scope goes way beyond Huffing Post. There are many others. Some play “games” where you can maybe win money. I feel that this is even more cruel than just being honest and telling people that they definitely will not be paid.

    • Well, one example would be that a job you’re applying for (that pays) wants examples of pieces you wrote that gained a high level of exposure. Very few normal writers would be able to achieve that without being part of a something that has high traffic and followers.

  5. My nephew wrote a couple of articles for HuffPo. Nice work, too, for an eighteen-year-old. I pointed out that he should have been paid. He took that to heart, and dropped HuffPo. Good kid. I predict he’ll be a great writer.

  6. They say the same thing when it comes to paying teachers. That you should do it because you LOVE it. Well yeah you have to love teaching to stick with it because it is bloody hard (I don’t do it, but my parents did). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get paid to freaking educate the future. Or to write what other people read to make a company more profit. That’s awful. But it’s everywhere. Liberal arts are NOT valued. That’s why when we writers and artists are paid, it’s squat.

  7. Here’s the deal. I’ll totally work for free, but on MY terms, and no one else’s. I blog on my own site and don’t get paid. I also do freelance work and do get paid (it’s not much per word, but hey, it’s real life money that I can, you know, do stuff with, like feed my kids or go buy a Chuck Wendig book or pick up that bottle of latex paint I’ve had my eye on at the sex shop and er… never mind that’s none of your business. I am writing a serial novel that a site has seen fit to publish. It’s unpaid, BUT, I knew that going in and I get free editing and other perks. I decided it was worth it. I made that call and no one else. I stopped clicking on HuffPost links more than a year ago and won’t ever pitch them. Sorry, Ms. Huffington, “exposure” doesn’t pay bills or buy kinky sex props.

  8. Chuck, I’m sorry to day this but I believe that you are wrong. I think that Stephen Hull is wrong too. And I will explain why – for free.

    I have been through a whole journey with Open Source software versus Closed Source and I took a side and was crazy about it. Open Source is pure because it is based on people’s work who aren’t being paid so they are doing it out of love and the their only payment is the respect of the community Some Open Source coders do it to get their name out and being well respected in (for example) the Linux Kernel community would show real “street cred” and make getting a well paid coding job more easier.

    However, as it turns out, there is fun coding (apparently) and not-fun coding. And it helps that big companies such as RedHat came about to fill in the gaps in the kernel with programmers that they were paying. RedHat still used the code that the programmers created for free but they also paid for programmers who they could assign as they wanted. Netscape (later Mozilla), SUN (now Oracle) and others do the same. Google use software that was made for free in most of their products including Android. It is good code – made with love. But they also supplement it will paid code – also good code – made for money.

    As you say in your article – you write for free on your blog and I’m sure that you write quality because you are driven to get your message out in the best way possible. That is fine – and if you use it to promote your books – that is fine too. If you write for the Huff Post for some personal reason then that is fine too – maybe to get practice, to get a good name, to get readers, whatever – that is fine.

    And if you need money and find work at a place – not necessarily writing what you particularly want to write but are getting paid for it – that is also fine. They are all choices and they are all required to be around.

    I guess what I am saying it that (if you are a good writer with some pride in your work) the commercial side won’t dictate the quality. So Stephen is wrong to say that paying someone automatically brings down the quality of their work and your argument that not paying them would lead them to seek out ways to corrupt their message to get paid is also wrong.

    • Good points all. I think there is a comparable situation where a lawyer, dentist or other professional might do pro bono work for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean that is how they work the majority of the time.

  9. I get your beef, but your piece is very misleading as HuffPo employs over 600 staff writers and also pays freelance writers for assignments—hardly the “they don’t pay writers” storyline here. I have a friend who writes and edits for them, she tells me that they treat her much better than the other 3 media companies that she has worked for. Bloggers like yourself SHOULD get some compensation for pieces that they publish, but as long as they continue to submit pieces without that expectation, it is not likely to change.

  10. Worth a read if only for the phrase ‘media lamphreys’ … the HuffPo is not alone, sadly. We writers (and we may have blogs, but that ought not be held against us like a scarlet A for amateur) ought to refuse to write for others for free, period.
    Cheekiest I know is Prospect – three good pieces, no pay, but they’re behind a paywall. Go figure.

  11. I picked up my car this evening from my mechanic’s shop with a repair (on my new-to-me-but 15 year old car) that will make my car Much safer to drive, but according to them wouldn’t endanger my life)… new sway arm bushings on the front wheels… Cost? $125.00 per hour, plus parts. Plus, an oil change. My point being that my mechanic gets $125 per hour for expertise and investment in the tools and experience needed to enable him to do his job well… Most dentists get upwards of $250 per hour, including mine, when I can afford to go, and lawyers, up the pay scale from there. I charge $40.00 per hour for expert woodworking/design/ and home repairs, consultant, base rate. Cheap at my level…
    If you have spent a lifetime perfecting your craft, be it mechanical, medical, legal, or in the arts, you should expect to receive, and be paid for your level(s) of expertise; comparable to what you pay others for their services, including a baseline starting point, and a possible ceiling for some work).
    Worth thinking about…

  12. I write a weekly blog (www.patmccaskey/blog), and it’s stated purpose is non-commercial. If people don’t want to be paid, they would say so in their invitation to read the blog. If you are making money from their work, PAY THE AUTHOR! For example, my blog starts with the following invitation: “For a period of time I will be writing primarily for our daughter and our three grandchildren. My father ignored my request that he provide me with the details of his life. I intend to do so for my family. You all are invited to come along on this trip if you wish.”

  13. Thank you, Chuck Wendig!! Your piece should be a FUCKING BILLBOARD!!! Much of the vile and puffy HuffPo is what I call hangnail-blogging– hot air and nothing to say. Meanwhile, with my degree in journalism and my prize-winning resume as a paid professional writer, I’ve been looking for part-time writing-related work that pays, and there are scads of jobs for CONTENT PROVIDERS. I’m thinking, now even my cat’s a content provider– they’re reduced the noble art of writing to…KITTYPOO!!

  14. I was ready to compliment you and critique you, I totally agree with you, businesses think it benefits artists of all mediums to work for exposure, it is nonsense and bullshit. My critique part was, I didn’t see a photo credit on the picture of the penny, and was going to bitch about it. I saw it was from flickr, so I backtraced the image it to find the owner, cool it’s one of your’s sigh or relief 🙂

    Photographers, designers, artists, illustrators all deal with the same or similar situations. I often get invited to events, when I accept, I almost always get the “cool bring your camera, you can get some shots for me”. Yes this is a problem that until the creators put their foot (feet? that doesn’t sound right…) down, the more creative people, who make their living with their craft accept no pay or low paying gigs, the harder it will be for all of us to carve a living doing what we love.

    This video sums up the challenge us creative people face. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/watch-people-other-industries-react-hilariously-being-asked-free-spec-work-167945

  15. Geez, took me long enough, but after reading to the end of your excellent item, grabbed my phone and deleted HPost off of it. Thanks…. from time to time, will send short notes to HPost about their crummy policies.

  16. Goes the same for political cartoonist. My parter has been one for 10+ years for Huff Po and others and we haven’t seen a dime. He would love to get paid but does it anyway because he feels driven to have a voice.

  17. Utterly absurd. In that philosophy we ought to tell Doctors and the entire medical system that they won’t be getting paid because they should embrace the “honor” of practicing medicine on the population and that, in itself, should be enough reward! In addition, all their years and years of study and training will enable them to be really “honored” to help the population as an act of service, and they can also get “day jobs” (i.e. janitor, nurse’s aid, retail perhaps?) to sustain them while they practice their noble profession and make the world a better place.

  18. As a semi-professional musician I must say I agree. I’m glad to play for free for causes dear to me and sometimes just for fun, but don’t invite me to your party, ask me to bring my guitar and expect me to sit in a corner providing background music. I’ll gladly do that provided I get paid my going rate.

  19. I stopped visiting Huffpo about 2 years (or more) ago. If I see an article that links to it, I Google the subject to find a source that isn’t Huffpo. I refuse to click on it.

  20. One of the problems with the HuffPost is all the PR ads disguised as articles. I live in Nicaragua and there’s a handful of PR writers who tout the place with pretty significantly dishonest information (a place with 96% tourist traffic and $60 meals and Aeropresses touted as an authentic Nicaraguan coffee culture cafe, places that have been discovered for a decade touted as undiscovered). HuffPost doesn’t turn these articles down.

  21. “You thieves, you brigands,”

    The did NOT steal anything, people gave it to them. When you lie, it tend to take away from your point.
    In an article that is, in essence” arguing ethics, you should stick to a code of ethics.
    http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

    Don’t get me wrong, the rest of your writing is sport on, and huffpo is horrible.

    Cheers

  22. and when writing’s not paid for, it’s not worth proofing, much less editing. aside from the private agendas that are pushed, the quality of the writing suffers. and, because the reading public is continually exposed to poor writing, they come to view it as average. adequate. the English language is a wild and wondrous thing, and to see it brought to its metaphorical knees, deprived of its grammar, bereft of its meaning (no, “comprise” and “compose” are not interchangeable), and broken. and now to melt in a puddle of dramatic tears. lol. but i meant every word! and really hoped i used them all correctly, because tempting fate and irony.

  23. I must have missed something…are writers forced to write for the Huffington Post? I think not. If you want to be paid, find a writing job that pays, don’t complain when a non-paid gig doesn’t, um, pay you.

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