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Friday, February 19, 2016

Huffington Post lies about writers

When Huffington Post editor, Stephen Hull, said that HuffPo was proud not to pay its writers, freelancers everywhere exploded in anger. And rightfully so.

The direct quote is as follows:
"If I was paying someone to write something because I want it to get advertising, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. When somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real, we know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of."
First, and most easily attacked was the underlying assumption that exposure for your craft should be the ultimate reward. To which writers aptly said, exposure doesn't pay our bills. The subset of that argument being that writing is not work, but art, and only passion, unpaid, is authentic.

The NewStatesman makes a good point here.

"When [Hull] is ill, he must have to research his symptoms online instead of visiting a [general practitioner], because their salaries mean the diagnoses they give aren't real."

When people are sick, really sick, and they can afford it, they will fly across the country to get the highest-paid doctor they can. Because the more specialized, more experienced, more practiced doctors and surgeons make more for their time. It is the same with nearly every profession, and something nearly everyone aspires to. Get more experience, get better at your job so that people will pay you more.

As journalism is a profession--it is our job to parse current events for the public, to place them into historical and cultural context, to bring up angles people may not think about without prodding, to speak to the nuance of each issue and place it in its rightful category as consumable information, and to do it all in a way that is engaging and interesting to the reader so that the publications (some of whom do not pay the writer) can continue to get paid (by whom? The very same advertisers Hull was speaking about).

We have a job. And the better we are at it, the more we should be paid.

Chuck Wendig also draws apt comparisons here, on his blog, Terrible Minds.

"Imagine walking into a building and realizing nobody paid anybody to lay the bricks that built the walls. Imagine sipping a drink and realizing that nobody got paid to build the machine that makes the can or what is inside it — nobody got paid to formulate the beverage or drive cases to stores or put the cans on shelves. Imagine that those who made the most fundamental component of the drink — the drink itself — never get paid. They were told that work was a privilege. They were told that to get paid to do those things would somehow make the process crass. It would make it impure."

But there are two things about this Hull debacle that haven't really been fleshed out, aside from writing being work for which people should be paid.

Stating that paying writers results in tainted copy 1) is hugely false. and 2) is insulting to writers.

Okay, so how is it false?

The strain of logic upon which his argument is based is flawed. He's starting upon a groundwork of false comparison. In Hull's model, if writers are being paid for their work, they will use it to advertise something, and thus shred not only their credibility, but the credibility of the publication housing their words.

"If I was paying someone to write something because I want it to get advertising, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy."

This sentence doesn't make sense.

In fact, the very thing publications are paying for is the credibility Hull is trying to say such payment eradicates.

It is my job to interview sources on all sides of every issue when I am doing a reported piece. It is my job to spend the time on the phone, in my car, and face-to-face digging up facts and opinions from those involved. It is my job to produce for my publication bullet-proof copy that they can put their name behind, proudly. It is my job to set them apart from the rest of the pack in terms of integrity, poignancy and the emotion that can be stirred by word-smithing.

I am literally selling credibility. It is the payment that holds journalists accountable for their thoughts and words. It is the payment that entices us not to give in to easy, faulty logic or cheap shots we don't bother to investigate. This profession works the way every other profession works in the world. We want to do the best we can to get the best payment we can. Only our product isn't drinks, our service isn't health. It's credibility.

So to say payment decreases authenticity is a huge lie. Because authenticity is what you are paying for.

What else is the author selling?

"It's not been forced, or paid for."

Again, we are not Coca-Cola. We don't have any product to push, only words. Forcing someone to write something has a name. It's called public relations. And those writers do get paid. Not by publications, such as The Huffington Post, but by the corporations whose products depend on good buzz, like Coca-Cola.

The only thing HuffPo sells is words. (And it does sell them. I did a quick check. Today's Huffington Post comes to you thanks to Cox Communication.) Words it gets for free. If Coca-Cola could get engineers to formulate its next soft drink for free, I'm sure it would be over-the-moon, and ridiculously profitable. But you don't see Coke trying to tell people that paying engineers to come up with the formula results in a shittier drink. Because it doesn't. It results in a better drink. You don't see Coke trying to tell its engineers that if they were truly whole, well, good human beings, they would work on this for free so that their calculations wouldn't be tainted by the greed of the corporate world. Because that's fucking ridiculous.

It would be like dropping your kids off at free daycares only because people who get paid can't possibly love your child. In fact, all child care should be free. Because shouldn't people just love children for the sake of it? And if someone is getting paid to watch your child, doesn't it mean their work is less-than? They're doing a worse job? No, it doesn't. Because that's fucking ridiculous.

And that's where Hull adds insult to injury. Writers, and journalists in particular, pride themselves on the bare truth of their words. Everyone is right about passion, too. We are passionate about what we do. We think it is important, and we place huge pressure on ourselves to do it right.

So to imply that needing to eat at the same time is somehow a deadly blow to all we hold dear not only hurts our workers, and hence the very profession of writing, it insults the life path we have chosen. It insults who we are. It insults our values, it insults our personalities.

This statement by Hull isn't just your regular, run-of-the-mill defense of a shady corporate system (Huffington Post) profiting on the backs of starving artists working for free. It is an active attack on all writers everywhere.

It is time for The Huffington Post to fail. They have jumped the shark.


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