The following article by NWU member John Sandman is the first of a series to further the discussion, struggle and buzz among freelance writers and bloggers, to gather the forces needed to make this fight. We look forward to hearing from you and to your participation in this campaign.
By John Sandman
The National Writers Union supports the strike against the Huffington Post, the content farm purchased by America Online (AOL) for $315 million. At the time of the sale, HuffPo had about 180 paid employees and anywhere from six to nine thousand unpaid bloggers.
The strike was initiated by ArtScene publisher Bill Lasarow, whose Los Angeles-based publication was invited to contribute for no pay by Huffington Post art editor Kimberly Brooks in 2009. He polled ArtScene authors who are paid for their work. “Initially, the consensus was that they were happy to have us re-post content that we were already paying for.” All that changed with the AOL deal. “There’s no question the AOL sale provoked a lot of re-thinking about that.”
The call to go on strike soon followed. In addition to NWU, ArtScene has the backing of the 26,000 member Newspaper Guild. “We are asking that our members and all supporters of fair and equitable compensation for journalists join us in shining a light on the unprofessional and unethical practices of this company,” the Guild said in a statement. “Just as we would ask writers to stand fast and not cross a physical picket line, we ask that they honor this electronic picket line.”
The Huffington Post Union, a California-based non-profit made up of HuffPo bloggers is also planning to withhold content and claims 4500 Facebook followers.
“We had no expectation that anything like the support we received was going to happen,” said Lasarow. “We obviously touched a nerve in a number of people.” Arianna Huffington is among them. Sharing the stage with AOL chairman Tim Armstrong at PaidContent’s 2011 conference in New York on March 3, she scoffed at the idea that HuffPo bloggers should be paid or that a strike would have any impact. “Go ahead,” she challenged the strikers from the podium, “Go on strike.”
Lasarow has been contracted the Washington, DC-based conservative news site The Daily Caller, the Los Angeles Times, Wired magazine and Liberation, a Paris daily founded by Jean-Paul Sartre. He also wrote an op-ed piece in the U.K. based Guardian. He said the goal now, “is to turn this into a bona fide strike that will bring Huffington Post to the bargaining table.”
He said, “American companies, over the last 30 years or so, have made deliberate attempts to erode the standard of living of their workers. Huffington is well-known for her statements in support of progressive causes, yet she has embraced a business model that is an imitation of the companies that she routinely criticizes.” In the case of HuffPo bloggers, she has substituted declining pay with no pay at all.