As a writer, I'm very interested in the ways in which writers are being treated by online media outlets. One of the reasons behind my recent post about Elephant Journal was a desire to see writers, and potential writers, be treated with more respect and dignity. Although I didn't mention it in the previous post, I've grown deeply ambivalent about Elephant's policy of not paying it's regular writers anything. I get the argument that it's still a somewhat small publication in the grand scheme, and not raking in the dough, but at the same time, writers can't pay their bills with the extra bit of website traffic that comes with exposure on a site like Elephant. Where's the balance between making enough income to survive, and recognizing that said income is made as a direct result of the work being done by the writers themselves? In the case of Elephant Journal, I don't know what's appropriate.
However, in the case of the Huffington Post, which has a fair number of Buddhist and other spiritual bloggers amongst it's "staff," the lines of fairness and respect were long ago crossed. Blogger and Buddhist Joshua Eaton makes the following points:
the Huffington Post relies on 8000 to 9000 unpaid writers—euphemistically called “bloggers”—for much of its content. Many balked at AOL’s purchase of the newssite, and two labor unions—the National Writers Union and the Newspaper Guild (AFL-CIO)—have joined a boycott of the Huffington Post started by Visual Art Source. So far, Ms. Huffington has refused repeated requests to meet with union leaders.
This is hardly an isolated incident for either AOL or the Huffington Post. Earlier this month Huffington Post Politics outraged the graphic design community by holding a contest to design their Twitter logo—for free. Back in June AOL followed Huffington Post‘s lead by adding almost 6000 unpaid bloggers to Patch, a network of hyper-local news sites over which Ms. Huffington now presides. (This is aside from the fact that Patch is already run by contracted editors making $38000 to $45000 per year while working 60 to 80 hours per week and freelancers making $50 to $100 per article.)
I encourage people to read his entire post, which includes the shoddy experience he had last year as a candidate for an intern position last year with the Huff Po.
One of the reasons I bring these two publications up in the same post is that fairly or not, the kinds of criticisms being laid upon the Huffington Post are also happening to the Elephant Journal. In some ways, it's irrelevant that Huff Po's budget is in the millions of dollars, while Elephant's budget is probably no better than the annual income at a barely above minimum wage job. People see unpaid writers, increasing popularity, and increasing revenue, and the words "exploitation" and "users" come flying out of their mouths.
Now, to provide a bit of contrast, one of the webzines I write for,Life as a Human, pays it's regular writers a monthly stipend. They have done this since the beginning - I know this because I have written for them since the website was launched in February 2010. Now, the stipend isn't a lot of money, but I do believe it's a recognition of the fact that any revenue coming in to the website is due, in great part, to the quality of writing being presented. In addition, the editorial team has always treated my writing well, and frequently is excited to see new work from me coming their way. Being writers and artists themselves, they chose to share the website with their fellow writers from the beginning, even asking our imput on various design changes that have been made over the past year and a half. Although I hope to someday be bringing in more money for some of my writing than I currently do, the leadership at Life as a Human is an example worth upholding of how to support the talent that keeps it running.
I intend to write more on these issues in the future, as it's likely to remain a source of contention for all writers doing work online. Your thoughts and comments on this are encouraged here as well.
*Image by Mike Licht of notionscapital.