Statement from the Newspaper Guild

Posted on Wednesday, 21st March 2012 @ 03:49 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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March 24, 2011
Dear Ms. Huffington,

As you know, many of your contributors have decided they will no longer write for free for The Huffington Post. When The Newspaper Guild urged other writers to honor the digital picket line, your spokesman Mario Ruiz said, “We stand squarely behind The Newspaper Guild’s mission of ensuring that media professionals receive fair compensation.”

We invite you to demonstrate this commitment by sitting down with the Guild to begin a dialog about the future of journalism. We would like to discuss the values that we share, and build upon them to meet the rapid changes and demands taking place in the industry. Like you, we believe that for journalism to survive it must adapt to the digital age.
One of the misunderstandings regarding this campaign is that The Newspaper Guild opposes anything but a conventional model of print. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We launched our campaign to address the revolution taking place in journalism. We applaud your creative use of new technology to build a successful business.
We urge you to apply that same creativity to build a vibrant future, one that provides a seat at the table not only for corporate media giants, but for the working writers who dedicate themselves to fostering an informed citizenry.
New technology should not make a worker’s paycheck obsolete.
You have championed the plight of workers in this country, which is why we are calling on you to demonstrate that commitment by meeting with us.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Most sincerely,

Bernie Lunzer
The Newspaper Guild-CWA

FAQ about HuffPost Freelance Campaign

What is the Guild asking?

The Newspaper Guild asks unpaid writers, cartoonists, photographers and videographers to withhold their work from Huffington Post until the company agrees to discuss some form of compensation system for contributors.

What exactly is this? A strike? A boycott? An informational picket?

Like other freelancers and independent contractors, bloggers for HuffPo aren’t a traditional workforce, so traditional definitions don’t apply. It probably doesn’t matter what you call it: Workers are organizing to seek change from an employer, in this case Huffington Post. We hope the labor community will, as it always has, stand in solidarity.

Why HuffPo?

Writers and journalists see HuffPo as a priority. More than 1,000 have signed on as fans of a Facebook page started by our Guild freelancers unit, “Hey Arianna, Can You Spare a Dime?” And earlier this month, writers from Visual Art Source announced a strike against HuffPo.

In the larger picture, Huffington Post is built on a progressive point of view that has long championed working people. Change at this highly successful company could create a new model for ethical, responsible online news production and aggregation.

Why now?

Last month, AOL bought Huffington Post for $315 million. This enormous payout proves the value of the unpaid labor harnessed by HuffPo. The merged company is already realigning — and in particular, combining operations with AOL divisions that traditionally have paid for freelance content. It’s clear that HuffPo is no longer a “start up,” so the company should now reconsider its approach to paying contributors.

Isn’t this action out of step with the realities of digital media?

Absolutely not. We are living through a sea change in the journalism and publishing industries. Discussing ethical and labor standards isn’t out-of-date — it’s essential to the survival of the media upon which our democracy relies.

New content platforms, including aggregators and online news agencies, must create a sustainable model for contributors. Siphoning profits without adequate reinvestment in content is a disaster not only for workers, but for our society as a whole.

Much of the value of any publication lives in the credibility and goodwill associated with its masthead and brand. For online news organizations, robust reinvestment in journalism and the public interest must be key to maintaining that goodwill.

Do HuffPo bloggers really need the money? Aren’t these college professors, book authors and policy makers who make their living in other ways?

Yes, some HuffPo bloggers have other careers and use the site mainly as a platform for sharing their views. Others are authors or business people who hope their columns will boost their public profile.

But many HuffPo writers are journalists trying to survive as freelancers or scraping by on unemployment as they wait for the economy to recover. And at least some contributors were led to believe their donated content would result in eventual profit-sharing.

Also, HuffPo treats some of its unpaid bloggers very much the way other newsrooms treat paid staffers or freelancers.

But haven’t people always written for free?

Yes, of course. Newspapers run free letters to the editor; television news shows invite guests to discuss current events. Book authors commonly make rounds of unpaid appearances to promote their own work. It’s not wrong to donate writing or other content to promote a cause about which you are passionate, or to further your own career.

What’s wrong is for a company to build its business on a model that thrives by separating the profits of advertising revenue from the costs of content creation. At HuffPo, the balance is off. Too much money is being earned with too little going back to writers, artists, commentators and journalists. This is bad for journalism and bad for society.

HuffPo provides a powerful platform for pro-labor and progressive messages. Doesn’t that outweigh wrongdoing on the part of its parent company?

We don’t think so. Just as you choose union printers and grocery stores, or avoid products manufactured in overseas sweatshops, we ask that you consider the larger impacts of where you direct your media “business.”

It is not HuffPo that gives your message value. It is your message that gives value to HuffPo. And for that reason, it just makes sense to seek out venues that support both journalists and quality journalism, including our country’s many unionized and nonprofit online news providers.

…and from HPUB:

Contributors to HP were motivated by many needs, from the narcissistic desire for attention to the idealistic and selfless motivat…ion to make the world a better place. Those in the former camp don’t see what the strike is about while those in the latter feel bamboozled…. Its the perception of a sellout and the distant echo of Judas and 20 pieces of silver…. Its the feeling of betrayal when a beloved charity is exposed as a profiteering fraud…Its the Gotcha! of a bait-and-switch…. Its the indignation of watching your Labor of Love sold to the highest bidder like so much equity in a corporation…when all the while the political undertone of HP decried greed and the corporatocracy that has taken over our country…and its the realization that a website capitalized on a nation’s smoldering resentment by wooing those who yearn for a more perfect union to give of their time and energy…only to declare that HP is not political. Well. We have news for you. We are indeed political and HP will be irrelevant with out us. We will come roaring back stronger than ever and this time we will not be sold.

The Newspaper Guild • 501 3rd Street NW • Washington, DC 20001 • 202-434-1100

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