In most industries refusing to pay your labor force is not only unethical, it would likely border on slavery and be illegal as well. Apparently in the world of blogging it's considered good business practice.
As reported today in TechCrunch
, the Huffington Post
has just secured an additional $5 million in funding, for a total of $10 million, to continue developing one of the top blog destinations on the Internet. While it's unknown how the Post plans to invest the money, the co-founder of the company has made it clear that the writers at the site won't be seeing a dime.
Ken Lerer, who worked as an executive at Time-Warner before helping to launch the Huffington Post, explained to USA Today
that the company has no plans to begin paying the bloggers at the Post. In his words, paying contributors is "not our financial model. We offer them visibility, promotion and distribution with a great company." It's certainly true that writing for the Huffington Post will provide greater visibility, promotional opportunities and generate greater distribution for their work, but do these benefits make up for the money they are not being paid?
For celebrity bloggers at The Huffington Post like Bill Maher
and John Cusack
, the lack of payment is probably unimportant, but with 1,800 bloggers writing for the company it's obvious that not everyone is picking up six-figure paychecks at their day jobs.
There's nothing wrong with volunteer journalism. Thousands of vital stories are written every day by "citizen journalists" and many of these stories would never get out if it weren't for the dedication of unpaid volunteers. The Internet not only allows people to self-publish their work, it provides an opportunity for groups of people to publish collectively. These projects are generally not profitable and frequently can't pay anyone. While online advertising has come a long way in recent years, it is not uncommon for these sorts of projects to generate less than $100 a month.
On the other hand, the Huffington Post is clearly earning a significant amount of money from advertising and is well on its way toward becoming a profitable company. I understand that the company couldn't afford to pay its bloggers when the site first launched. I can even understand why it might not be possible today, but I find Lerer's commitment to never pay the bloggers at the Post disconcerting. These talented writers have helped make the Huffington Post into the economic success it is quickly becoming, and to suggest that they should never share in that success seems shameful.
Unlike businesses that produce houses, cars or furniture, there is no law to prevent the Huffington Post from relying on free labor to create content for its Web site. If someone proposed such a law, I wouldn't support it, and I doubt its effects would be mitigate any of the inequities that already exist, but this doesn't change the fact that the Post is a company whose workforce goes well beyond their 43 full-time employees. I think that everyone involved would benefit greatly if Ken Lerer and Arianna Huffington were to reconsider their financial model for the company.
If the Huffington Post committed to paying its bloggers as soon as it could allocate the money, it seems like they would have even greater success in recruiting and maintaining the best contributors. This would further increase their readership, and in the process the Post would demonstrate their commitment to a sustainable economic ecology.