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Huffington Post Bloggers Want A Paycheck, But It Doesn't Look Likely

Laura J. Nelson |
February 9, 2011 | 1:30 p.m. PST

Senior Staff Reporter

Arianna Huffington (Creative Commons)
Arianna Huffington (Creative Commons)

The Huffington Post's $315-million price tag has ruffled the feathers of bloggers who say they should be paid for helping the site during its meteoric rise.

Even though founder Arianna Huffington has made it clear she doesn't plan to pay bloggers, some insist she should be helping those who helped her. Being unpaid before the website broke even was one thing, they say, but now that the website is worth $315 million, they want credit where credit is due – and a paycheck, too.

"Now we're talking about AOL, instead of Arianna," said Howard Rodman, a HuffPo blogger and USC School of Cinematic Arts professor. "I don't think that a large media conglomerate should be excused from the general rules for labor value, just because a start-up did it that way."

Huffington's business model – content provided by unpaid bloggers and curated by paid editors – will resulted in an estimated $60 million profit for 2011.

For Huffington's bloggers, the rules are simple: no pay, just exposure. She drew the line clearly in an e-mail sent Monday to the website's writers. The only thing changing about the HuffPo will be the number of readers, which could swell to more than 117 million unique visitors following the marriage to AOL, she said.

The news blew up Twitter Monday, and a healthy chorus of nay-sayers began speaking out against Huffington's business model. But under their anger seems to be a common thread of knowing that this is a a lost cause. 

"Since HuffPo is worth $315 million, I wonder why Ariana Huffington can't afford to pay her contributors who make the content a single dime," said Matt Bors, an editorial cartoonist for United Media, on Twitter.

Some, like Bors, say the fault lies with the bloggers who agreed to work for free in the first place. He says the answer is simple: if you want to be paid for your work, don't work for free.

"Everyone should have been paid from day one, and not just with 'exposure,'" Bors said over the phone. "Arianna won't accept 'exposure' for herself — she took a cool $315 million." 

The bloggers discussing the possibility of paychecks do so with a hopeful cynicism: most likely, nothing will change, and they know that.

"If I were a betting man, I’d have to put my money on 'it aint gonna happen,''" said David Cohn, the founder of Spot.Us, in a comment on a Mediactive story. "... She can’t pay anyone – cause it’ll open up the floodgates and if those floodgates were to open – cash would fall out."

"It's not that they'll be cut off from their supply of articulate writers just because they don't start now," Rodman said. "Since they said their practice is to never pay for blogs, why would they start now?"

Huffington confirmed that sentiment in an interview with The Wrap: "[Payment] is not how we see blogging. We are providing a super-charged, turbo-charged platform."

When the Huffington Post began, Rodman said, it was a "wonderful kind of refrigerator and they were handing out free magnets." Writers were aware that their stories were building the brand, Rodman said, but they were willing to work for free because it was a "like-minded community" that built their own brand, too. 

Rodman first began coaxing discussion about getting paid in 2007, when he sent an email to fellow HuffPo bloggers:  "We wouldn't sell a book, or a screenplay, or an article in a magazine, without some form of compensation," Rodman wrote in the e-mail. "...There's almost always something coming back to the writer.  But oddly: not here." 

No one was willing to go against Huffington, Rodman said, because it would have taken too much time and effort for something that wasn't likely to happen.

Rodman hasn't approached Huffington about payment because he doesn't know her personally, he said. But he's floated the idea to some friends who could speak with her.

"I'm not expecting much," Rodman said. "But whether it's AOL or NewsCorp or Sony, any media giant, I deeply believe that if somebody is making money off of someone's creative work, then that person should receive compensation."

To reach senior staff reporter Laura J. Nelson, click here. Or follow her on Twitter: @laura_nelson.



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