September 11, 2014

Why Arianna Huffington is Wrong

Arianna Huffington is an impressive woman. She is an impressive woman who continues to make money from her website, the Huffington Post, which does not pay its bloggers. Though she has staff on the payroll, she does not pay the people whose blog posts appear on her site and generate page impressions and, therefore, income.

Last night at Carriageworks Annabel Crabb asked Ms Huff why she did not pay bloggers. She responded that she didn't need to. She believes that people want to write, and they will write anyway, and she offers them a platform - much like Tumblr or Facebook - on which to express themselves. They gain valuable exposure, which is payment enough. And besides, why should she pay them? They are willing to write for free!

She also (very cleverly) pointed out that Annabel's guests on her TV show are not paid. So that's pretty much the same thing, right?

Well, let's take that point by point.

  • The Huff Post is a platform, but it is not a site like Tumblr or Facebook. The latter are free-for-alls. Anyone can post, anyone can write. But the Huff Post is not a public platform. Only a select few get to write for the Huff Post. They are chosen specifically so that their words will earn income for the company. So the comparison is invalid.
  •  Yes, many people want to write. Many people enjoy expressing themselves creatively. And yes, as Ms Huff states, they will write anyway. But writing for yourself is like painting for yourself. It's lovely to express yourself in a painting or work of art. You can't expect to be paid for that. But if someone wishes to take your painting and hang it in their own environment, so that other people will be lured into that environment and spend money, they should damn well pay for it.
  • Not paying guests on a TV show is not the same thing as not paying a guest writer. A guest on a TV show is an interview subject, and it is anathema to journalism to pay for interviews. Whether or not Annabel pays her interviewees is utterly irrelevant. I can guarantee, however, that her producers pay the writers, the camera operators, the makeup artists, the directors, the lighting people, and everyone else involved in the making of the show. And that is the only appropriate comparison.
  • Underpayment or non-payment of particular professions is a serious problem from a feminist perspective. Traditionally, women have engaged in roles which are performed for love, rather than money. Teaching, nursing, social work etc have been underpaid for years because the people performing those roles - usually women - will do them anyway. This does not make it right. These people who are working in fields they are passionate about deserve payment as much as people working purely for money.
  • Yes, there are thousands of people willing to work for the Huff Post unpaid. They are willing to work unpaid because they feel they don't have a choice, because the systems in place - the systems maintained and perpetrated by the Huff Post, among others - give them no choice. And this is the very definition of exploitation: taking advantage of people who feel they have no choice.
Arianna Huffington is an impressive woman. But until she pays all her writers, she will not be the inspiration I am looking for.


  1. Yes to everything you have written here Kerri. Hear bloody hear. x

  2. If you blog you do it off your own bat because you think what you have to say is important, so don't expect to be paid for it. And working is where you have someone who enters into a contract or arrangement of employment not someone who just does something because the love it and then thinks by the way I am so great at this I should be paid.

  3. Working is where someone pays you for your time/labour/talent because they know they benefit from it (ie. company profits). Same rule applies in publishing - content drives profits and should be paid for.

  4. There are people out there who make their money from their creative efforts, anybody who's dumb enough to work for free is taking food out of their mouths. If anyone is serious about being in any creative industry, lesson number one is GET PAID. If someone says they want your work, make them pay for it. If they won't, they don't want your work, they just want a schmuck. If your work is good enough they want to use it, it's good enough for them to pay for.

    A schmuck doesn't just let their own sweet selves get ripped off, a schmuck is screwing everybody. Every time someone gets work done for free by a hobbyist, it ingrains the idea that creative work is worth nothing, and that creatives should be glad to even be offered the chance to have their work seen.

    The Huffington Post will get nothing from me and every time I see a blogger preening as they've had a piece published, I shake my head sadly to myself and think they're an idiot. Arianna Huffington isn't an idiot, she makes a fortune from idiots.

  5. Agree entirely. If I blog I do it because I want to. However, if someone else wants to republish my words on their site, then they enter a contract with me, and I should be paid.

  6. There are always folks willing to work for free to get "exposure" or because it's a hobby. As a musician I saw this kill the music industry here in Sydney. But having said that, you get what you pay for. Plenty of blogs here in Australian don't pay their writers either, you just have to weigh up if the exposure is worth it. Sometimes it is. I charge for my guest posts if their blog has less hits than my own blog does, unless it's a demographic I want access to. I simply weigh up the options and make a choice.

  7. HEAR HEAR!! Profiting of people's kindness, naivety, ego and insecurity is shitty.

  8. I never expected to earn a living from blogging, it is only part of my business. It supports my business, it's a large part of it, but isn't the only part of it. If I was only a blogger than yes I'd be in big trouble! Back to the drawing board! Built my first blog in 2006, and I've certainly got a lot of business from it, but being paid for guest blogging has been very scarce. I get asked to guest post a lot, and turn most offers down due to the above standards I set for myself. Would never call myself a writer tho. I think there's the big difference. If you are a professional journalist, you certainly wouldn't write for free, but a self taught blogger has different background and expectations I think.

  9. An interesting and eloquent piece, Kerri. I agree wholeheartedly, the arguments for what is basically exploitation are spurious.

  10. I think the whole media model is changing and traditional channels of earning an income are evolving thanks to the internet - a lot like the frustrations in trying to stop people downloading music or movies for free. Yes, we all say it's outrageous (I agree) but millions still do it. It's almost impossible to turn back the tide. Instead, perhaps it's better to swim with the tide and think of new ways to generate revenue? Driving people to your site, and providing an opportunity to buy your books (or other merchandise in some cases - apps for example) may be the income generators of the future. Kerri, that is exactly how I came to purchase your "Little Book of Anxiety" book - I read a one of your posts from another site, loved it, and then clicked through to your page and made the purchase. Perhaps it's time to get more creative about what those purchases might include?

    Sites like the Huffington Post become a marketing expense towards other promotions. Of course, all of this risks becoming irrelevant if no backlinks are provided on the unpaid publishing site. Personally, I am not an established journalist / author and so am grateful for any opportunity to get my ideas communicated because I might just help someone in the process. I have a strong business background, and have always thought of these opportunities as PR windows.

  11. Great post Kerri! I think if I hear the term, "we don't pay but it's great exposure for you" one more time I'm going to have a screaming fit! If a publication or platform won't pay, go to one that will but do not sell your writing for FREE!

  12. I hear what you're saying, but I think the argument that 'millions still do it' is invalid. There should be rules in place to stop people doing it. If there weren't minimum wage rules in Australia millions of people would be working for peanuts because they have no choice. There is no reason why similar laws can't be in place to prevent companies using other people's words for free. People need to be protected from exploitation, and writers are people too.

  13. But why should they have different expectations? If someone likes your words enough to use them for their own financial gain, why shouldn't they be required to pay for them? If you were a self-taught hairdresser or a self-taught painter or self-taught handyman you would still expect pay for your efforts - why not writers?

  14. Ethically I think you are correct, I pay my guest posters on my little blog, but I guess being featured on a really high profile blog like the Huffington post might be a form of payment if there is a link back to your blog with a lead, and you profit from hits.

    I had a post re-purposed on a very popular Australian Woman's Blog, for no payment, the hits back to my website increased my google rankings which I really needed at the time. I could pay for advertising on that blog, but actually having a post on there was much better than advertising. To turn down that offer, would have meant I would have lost out on that opportunity. I now have a relationship with the owner of the blog, and could pitch another post in the future. I believe they are now paying their writers.

    With so many people writing now and getting published online it's going to be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. And as it's now global and not regional, you can't at this stage have a global law. I'm not defending it, but I guess basically wondering if it is payment of a kind for some people. Obviously if you don't need hits on your website, if you are unable to benefit for any links back, then that type of "payment" wouldn't work for you.

    I'm a public speaker, and the same issue occurs there. People who want you to speak for free for "exposure" or for charity. A speakers group I belong to, are always discussing this. With many passionate and quite angry about being asked to speak for free, especially for conferences or for companies that are commercial. Others basically shrug their shoulders and say, ah well, people will always ask, there will always be people who will speak for "exposure" I have two books that I sell at my gigs, and if its ever board line, if I can sell my books sometimes that will do it for me. I often make more money from my book sales than the fee!

    Sorry to ramble, but as a musician, I guess none of this is new to me, been dealing with it for 25 years.

  15. I wasn't arguing that because millions do it, it is ok. Rather, I was saying that it becomes almost impossible to stop (right or not) so therefore isn't is easier to adapt than to try to hold back the technology tide? There's already been massive changes in the media sector - look at Fairfax for example. It is a sign of the times. A bit like arguing to protect switch board operators when computerised phone systems changed the nature of communication. They had no choice but to adapt to the new way of doing things.I don't mean to sound cold-hearted with my argument. There's no doubt it would have been an awful adjustment.

    I struggle to see the comparison between minimum wage and the evolution of our commuication/media channels. One is shared (and impacts) all industry sectors, and the other is highlighting the changes that are occuring in one particular area. I can empathise with the professional writers who are affected by the changes because unchartered change is always difficult, but I'm also excited to see what happens as a result. I admire the skill of a professional writer, particularly in their approach to creativity and I think it will be an interesting time to see how such thinking is applied as the markets inevitably change.

    Finally, I hate to think what personal learnings/messages I may have missed out on had all information shared on the net been driven purely by economics. I've learnt a lot in this space from both professional and casual writers and I'm grateful their work has been available to me. Sites like the Huffington Post provide a short cut to many ideas I may not have discovered otherwise.

  16. Well said. I agree it is exploitation. The pitiful minimum wage is another example of the American attitude toward it. People just think it's normal these days. What ever happened to honor in earning/paying a fair days wages for a fair days work?

  17. True story - I'm volunteering on a start up charity / not for profit aimed at male mental health and suicide prevention and the founder offered to pay me out of his own pocket for both my time and my services to do copywriting, marketing & public relations. I turned him down for a number of reasons, not least because it is currently only about a 4hr/mth commitment and a great cause I'm happy to be involved with. but how sad it is that someone like Arianna Huffington who is blatantly profiting off other people's work doesn't value it enough to pay for it but a country farmer turned cafe owner in regional QLD does - even when it's for philanthropic purposes.

  18. You are so right Kerri. I think many people who work in creative professions like writing believe that because they love what they do they're 'lucky' if anyone wants to read it let alone pay for it. I've fallen victim to this way of thinking myself plenty of times and it's ridiculous.


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