As a blogger, you may be peripherally aware of the lawsuit filed this past April by freelancer Jon Tasini on behalf of unpaid bloggers at The Huffington Post. Tasini is best known for his other suit filed against the New York Times that gives paid freelance writers the right to be paid for their content when the NY Times puts their work into a database like Lexis Nexis. But the gist of the lawsuit against HuffPo says that the content provided by unpaid bloggers is worth at least $105 million and that the publication ought to pay them that amount.
For sake of brevity, and because your ADD would not allow you to follow along, I’m not going to get into the legal causes of action here contained in the suit, so let me just pose a simple question instead–
Given that HuffPo sold out to AOL for $300 million, do you, as a blogger, think that those other bloggers ought to have been paid for helping to build the value of the site sufficient to make it attractive to be sold for that amount?
Regardless of the reasons why anyone would agree to work for free for such a large publication thereby rendering himself a digital serf in the process, it’s a fair question.
Personally, I think bloggers were snookered, which is essentially what Tasini’s lawsuit alleges. As an unpaid blogger, it goes without saying that I want my content to be exposed to as many eyeballs as possible just to help market my writing ability. And while publication of my content on a major publication such as HuffPo seems like it would be a means to accomplishing that end, the fact remains that it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me that the site’s owner would cash out for millions.
But I can tell you this much –if I had, in fact, contributed free content, only to later find out that the site had been sold, then I would have been a tad disgruntled about it. Case in point: I was recently interviewed by a well known writer from the Washington Post for material that I have previously covered here on Prattle, but I was never under the impression that my input was going to be used for any other reason than the Post writer’s one-time article about the subject matter. In short, I knew exactly what I was getting into. The only agreed upon compensation was an honorable mention in the article, but it remains to be seen as to whether this level of exposure will help my writing career. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. In either case, my feedback didn’t go towards building the WP brand name.
As to the unpaid bloggers at HuffPo, since Arianna Huffington is a self-identified progressive, you’d think that she would have at least had the common decency to share some of the ad revenue that was generated as a result of visits to the site. She had me pretty convinced she wasn’t just about the greenbacks based on the Move Your Money Project, alone. But talking the talk does not necessarily mean alleged progressives will walk the walk. See also the Obama Administration & Democratic Party that has so far proven to be every bit as big of a tool for their criminal friends on Wall Street as the former administration was.
So maybe the compelling question here isn’t so much one of deceptive business practices (as alleged in the HuffPo suit) as much as it is an ethical one. Essentially, the unpaid bloggers were partners that contributed valuable content that in turn, helped build the brand. Without the free content contributors, I strongly suspect that HuffPo would have been just another partisan politics-flavored blog along the lines of Crooks & Liars and Fire Dog Lake. The blogger content featured on those blogs aren’t paid either, but then again, neither cashed out to a member of the corporately consolidated media for a multi-million dollar deal.
Which brings me to another well-known, progressive blog. Daily Kos was big long before HuffPo came along, but the only reason why it hasn’t had the same fate as HuffPo is because “kos” himself, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, didn’t sell out to a corporate entity for big bucks the way Adrianna did. And no wonder –with 2 million unique visitors per month and 300,000 registered users, he didn’t have to. The ad revenue alone pays his bills and then some. But that’s not the same as selling out and screwing over the contributing free bloggers in the process. Zuniga merely uses the kos name brand to pimp his book(s) and to otherwise showcase his writing ability.
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