After Wil Wheaton wrote a piece called “Seven Things I Did to Reboot my Life” for his blog he was approached by Huffington Post to possibly reprint it. Wheaton was understandably excited and asked what the pay was, only for Huff Po to inform him that they don’t pay for this sort of thing and that most bloggers find their recompense in being part of the “unique platform” that is the site.
Wheaton responded with a no, and also by taking the company to task on Twitter. His reasoning is simple: there is no excuse for why Huffington Post can’t pay bloggers who submit for the site. It is a Pulitzer-winning news outlet that reaches millions of people and when it was last sold it went for more than $300 million. They can and should pay if they think the products Wheaton and others produce are worth sharing.
In the Salon piece linked above there’s a discussion about working for free. Wheaton doesn’t need Huffington Post to reprint his work to spread it far and wide. He’s both a well-known working actor and popular celebrity. What about unknown guys? Surely they could use Huff Po’s reach, and that’s worth a few free articles right?
Well, I’m one of those guys. I was approached by Huffington Post to join their blogging community after my story regarding my daughter’s dress code-shaming went viral. Naturally they first approached to ask if they could have that story and just as naturally the Houston Press declined to provide them something for free they had paid me to do. They seemed to like my style though and encouraged me to join anyway. So I turned in my work like a good boy.
Now, I already knew that they didn’t pay bloggers because I have a very good friend that writes for them and she told me. I was indeed in it for the exposure. I considered it an advertising expense for my literary career since I could plug my books in my byline. After all, there have been a few days when I had 800 words worth of an opinion more than I had $5 for Facebook ads. It couldn’t hurt to use them to that end, right?
Yes, it will hurt. Wheaton is right, and we have got to stop the tide of not paying for art as a matter of course. Not for people like him, but for people like me who are continuously having to make the choice between collecting a paycheck and furthering a career.
When I was invited to the Huff Po blogging community I went digging and ran across this article from Jason Linkins about working there. To call it condescending would be doing it far too much justice. Linkins as a staff writer chides freelance bloggers like myself for wanting to be paid as he is since we do not understand the concept of “showing up to work every day” or “making deadlines.” Until we grok the crushing burden of his job we should be grateful to Huffington Post for even allowing our words on its site.
Which is just nonsense. I have been a freelance contributor to a dozen outlets for six years. My personal record is nine separate articles turned in during a single work day. If you think being a freelance writer in this world is naps and day-drinking you’re out to freakin’ lunch.
For Huffington Post to not pay is a disservice to the next generation of writers. To see such a well-known publication openly treat any contribution to its product as if it was literally worth zero dollars sends a terrible message to the people writing those contributions. Worse, it acclimates them to working for free, something you wouldn’t do if this was flipping burgers or changing tires. How a company can collect a paycheck off ads that appear on my work and decide I deserve none of it is beyond me.
Back when I was playing rock star my band ended up donating some unreleased instrumental tracks for the DVD release of The Tripper. We were paid $1, but we were OK with that because we thought it might lead to another offer. It did. The same company said they knew a guy that needed a horror movie soundtrack and were we interested? We were and asked for the pay. The guy told us the whole no pay, great exposure thing. We told him that we needed to see a check, but to make an offer because he might be surprised what we’d work for. Then nothing.
Honestly, we would have taken $20. $20 is a lot of things to a local band. It’s a run of flyers, gas to Austin, pizza after the show or ammo for the toilet paper gun. We didn’t get $20 because the idea that artists are just supposed to hand over their work and be grateful if someone somewhere down the line pays them is everywhere now. It stays that way because if one person says no, a dozen others will swallow the bait and say yes. It’s why things like minimum wages matter. If the only choice you have is to let someone else starve to a lesser degree in your place because everyone hiring is screwing the labor force over equally, then there isn’t much of a choice at all.
So I’m not going to submit to Huffington Post anymore. Either I’m good enough to be on the site or I’m not, and if I’m worth reprinting I’m worth paying even if it’s just a pittance. I work hard every day as a writer, just as hard as the editors, ad guys, and IT department of Huffington Post. I will not be told I’m the one cog in that wheel beneath compensation.
Jef's collection of short stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is out now. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.