The HuffPo emperor has no clothes

September 12, 2013
The mousetrap of giving away your work for free

The mousetrap:  giving away your work for free

I have a bone to pick with the ubiquitous Huffington Post.  Because I use my almost 20-year-old AOL account for non-personal emails, I see HuffPo stories almost every time I open my webmail. The online news aggregator aggressively leverages its relationship with AOL, which is smart business. It comes up often in news searches. And it’s crammed to the gills with content for every demographic and on every subject known to men and women. It’s aggressive. And everywhere.

But, I haven’t been aggressive in submitting my writing to HuffPo. That’s because  it won’t compensate contributors:  Huff Post contributors write for free.  Since the idea of having a platform that large for one’s writing is hard to resist, many bloggers / writers do not resist.  By filling its site with free content for which it sells a a significant amount of advertising, I believe Huff Po takes advantage of writers: in its business model everyone benefits except the writer. In fact, its model depends on it.

So when I read (often) that someone is “honored” that their piece was run in the outlet, I think they’re misled. They’re simply filling a news hole for free, along with other free contributors. Some of that writing is good, a bit of it is very good and some of it’s not so good. The Newspaper Guild had it right when they said that writing for free “doesn’t benefit the worker and undermines quality journalism.”

content_is_freeThe company claims that the exposure and platform is compensation enough for writers. I don’t deny that kind of exposure is valuable. I just don’t agree that it’s enough.  Plus, there’s so much content on the site that it’s easy for any given blog post or other piece to get lost. If a blogger I know promotes a HuffPo piece they’ve written I might take a look at it, or if a story comes up in a news search, I’ll click–but I have never actually gone to the site to read a section or a story without some catalyst. It’s not my “go-to” source for anything.

Most of us who’ve written for pay as part of our careers are troubled by the push-pull scenario presented by the Huffington Post model.  “I hate myself, even as I submit an essay to them,”  a well-regarded and well-published essayist said to me recently.  I feel the same way.  I’m not saying I won’t ever submit to the outlet, but it’s certainly not my outlet of first, second or even third choice and I mostly ignore it altogether.  If I did submit, though, I might be “pleased” (even as I flagellated myself for caving in) but I wouldn’t be “honored” or “thrilled.”  I was going to write “there is no honor among thieves” but the fact is, Huff Po is simply taking advantage of market conditions: tons of content providers willing to give away their work. And that’s capitalism, folks. It’s the way our system works.  But I think it’s an abusive business practice.

Some of my readers are HuffPo contributors, I know, and some are damn good writers. I don’t diss your decision to take the free space as a platform.  I’m just suggesting that there’s another way to look at it.

If there’s any justice at all, it’s that the news outlet is bleeding so much cash it has yet to turn a profit since AOL acquired it, its ad sales are sluggish and there are still great writers who have resisted its siren call.  I count myself among them.

At least for now.


32 comments on “The HuffPo emperor has no clothes
  1. Susan Cooper says:

    That’s a tough one, to gain exposure or go for pay. I guess that decision would depend on where you are with your authority as a writer. As for me, I stil trying to figure all that out.

    • admin says:

      I’m just not convinced the exposure is there the site’s so overcrowded, The only people I know who read it is other writers and if a story comes up in a search engine.

      • That is so very true. I have resisted doing articleS and guest posts mostly because I am dyslexic and it takes a very long time to write a piece. So Huffington Press will have to wait, not that they care… LOL.

  2. Honestly i’d like to be published by them ONCE (just for the ability to say so) and then nada- never again. The site is no longer a Salon of the best minds. It’s becoming a whore house of mediocrity Good for you Carol.

    • admin says:

      I’m not sure what’s earned by saying so–submit to other, more reputable pubs and get better exposure and more out of it!

  3. Sharon Greenthal says:

    I’ve been writing for HuffPost for about a year and a half. I agree that it’s unfortunate that they don’t compensate their writers, but I’ve had so many opportunities, including being published in an anthology, appearing on HuffPost Live on frequent occasions, and being contacted by many websites about writing for them, that I don’t give the non-payment too much thought. And the truth is, it’s pretty exciting when a post gets hundreds of comments, likes and shares. That doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it’s great.

    I agree though, “thrilled” and “honored” may be pushing it – though for new bloggers it can be pretty exciting stuff.

    You make a good point, and it’s something for all of us to think about.

  4. It is a dilemma, no doubt about it. I think it’s an individual choice. Do you need it to build your resume? Writing for free is not fun, but sometimes it is necessary for the writer to build their audience.

    • admin says:

      But, that’s my point. I don’t believe it does build audience because primarily people who visit are other writers. It’s not a go-to source for anyone. Not well-regarded. Savvy editors know that Huff Po is not an indication of a good resume.

  5. Couldn’t agree with you more! It also seems instead of “art imitating life” it has evolved into art imitating art…and by that I mean everything starts looking and sounding the same on a site like that. People writing for a placement like that. We decided before even getting into this to write what we felt, and not fall into a “lets do what the cool kids are doing” type of blogging. We have great and loyal readers and that means more to us! Great piece!

    • admin says:

      As per our call last week! I think good work speaks for itself. I just had an email correspondence with an editor of a paying publication about a work that she wanted but someone else bought, and her desire for more work from me. Now THAT’s something to be thrilled about!

  6. Karen says:

    I agree–if I’m going to give away my content, I’ll do it via my own blog, thanks! I rarely visit HuffPo except when friends have stuff published there. I don’t seek out the site, and I disagree with their business model, so I don’t think we’d be a good fit. Not to disparage those who are published there, but it’s not a choice I’d make.

  7. DarleneMAM says:

    I had an article published on HuffPo. Once. It was the beginning of a series that I decided not to continue on that site. Why? After I thought about it, I realized that my content, my writing is worth more than nothing.
    Why give away content to a site that is making enough money to compensate its writers.

  8. Jennifer Wagner says:

    I agree with you Carol and so far have not submitted anything to HuffPo. I am happy to submit a few posts to new or smaller sites that can’t afford to pay. But for a site that makes millions to refuse to pay anything to its writers just bothers me on principle. I barely have enough time to keep up with my own site. I’m not giving them anything for free. I wish everyone else felt the same way and then they would have to change their ways.

  9. I’m with you 95% of the way on this. I’ve had several articles published on HuffPo, as a HuffPo blogger and via posts republished from other sites (sites that paid me). It’s kind of cool being able to say you’re published on HuffPo but the idea you get traffic from there as payment is a bunch of hooey, at least for me and my blog. I’ve seen little return in terms of traffic to my site because of HuffPo. I prefer to be paid for my work, so I haven’t written specifically for them in quite some time. Not sure I will again. Maybe?

    • admin says:

      I hear you. But most don’t see this as a prestige publication–most savvy editors know that the writing varies, it’s minimally vetted–and so not sure what the cool factor is. I’m just saying that we should think about what it all really means, besides name on a website.

      • Sharon Greenthal says:

        It’s about eyeballs on your writing. I agree there are much more prestigious sites, but for a post that does well, you can’t beat the views. Plus, they’ll take your previously published writing, which for new bloggers is a big bonus.

        Not really defending them, just pointing out the positive aspects of being on their site.

        • admin says:

          Well, if that’s the case then we’d all be clamoring to write for crappy pubs like the Enquirer that have millions of eyeballs. What’s different for me is that it’s never been about the number of eyeballs. It’s always been about the quality of the writing. Which is why I don’t submit to publication that often–if I am pleased with it, often, it’s enough. But don’t get me wrong, when I do submit, I have a high hit rate. I just don’t do it often enough and I’m very selective about where I want to see my work. Just to please myself. (I’d probably have a lower hit rate if I subbed more–LOL)

  10. Agent 54 says:

    I would like to be published by the Huffington Post someday but, I don’t think it is possible because they never publish anything that makes sense.

  11. Melanie says:

    Yes, Carol, I agree. After the first flush of getting readers at another “write for free” site passed, I felt used. I did meet wonderful fellow bloggers at that other site, and that was a bonus. But I probably won’t be giving it up for free to Huffpost any time soon. Not saying never… but I have drawn the line for now.

  12. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying and wish there was a way for all of us writers to band together and demand to get paid for the content we’re providing. For better or worse, though, I’ve gotten a number of opportunities because I’m a regular Huffington Post blogger.

  13. My experience and thoughts on HP mirror that of most of your other commenters. I was pleased to have the ‘honor’ of saying I’m a HuffPost blogger because some people do see it as a legitimate step. But the comments are overwhelmingly written by some sort of freaks who get into their own conversations on my post.
    For a new blogger? Yes it might be helpful. For a freelancer or professional writer it’s not helpful, in my mind. We are not giving our writing away unless it’s a carefully thought out placement that has significant value in building brand or establishing relationships. I hear Sharon and Lois say they get other opportunities-I think it depends on your ultimate goal and career objectives.

  14. Donna says:

    I am with you. I have never written for them for that very reason. It irks me when big media companies make money off a “no pay for the writers” model. But then again, if I ever had written for them, maybe more people would know who I am after 10 years of blogging.

  15. “there is no honor among thieves”. hahaha classic.

  16. Unknown Mami says:

    I say that if you do submit to them, thy should be the ones that are honored and thrilled. Free quality content is a blessing to them.

  17. Lisha Fink says:

    The first time I was published on a national site, I was giddy. I felt like it gave me some street cred that my itty-bitty blog just couldn’t. The traffic to my site they promised they came, but I enjoyed the buzz anyway. The second time I asked myself what was in it for me, and took a long look at my motives for doing it.

    Now, if Huff Po came a-calling, I would probably have a hard time getting past the flattery of being asked, and give in. Because I don’t (yet) have an agent, or a book with my name on the cover. And since that’s my end game, I would see it as a necessary step on the path. *sigh*

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