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Monday, 2 April 2012

Huffington betrayed an alliance

That fight by erstwhile Huffington Post bloggers to recoup some of the money resulting from the February 2011 sale of the outlet to media giant AOL has turned a corner, the Guardian reports, with NY court judge John Koeltl rejecting their claim, saying:
"No one forced the plaintiffs to give their work to the Huffington Post for publication and the plaintiffs candidly admit that they did not expect compensation.
"The plaintiffs entered into their transactions with the defendants with full knowledge of the facts and no expectation of compensation other than exposure. In such circumstances, equity and good conscience counsel against retroactively altering the parties' clear agreements."
The lawsuit was launched by blogger and author Jonathan Tasini, who has relocated to Sydney where he is working on a new book, says the Australian: Tasini "is not giving up the fight against what he calls the "cancer" of media outlets demanding that writers contribute their work free". The four bloggers are considering an appeal.
"But we're not just relying on a judge," he says. "We're using the lawsuit to spark a movement and an organising effort among bloggers to set a standard for the future because this idea that all individual creators should work for free is like a cancer spreading through every media property on the globe.
"The fundamental question is: How are individual creators going to make a living and how are they going to create new content that is the basis of culture, democracy and knowledge?"
Tasini delivered a similar message in November during the annual Walkley Conference, which was held last year in Brisbane, and where he turned out to be a popular speaker. Tasini told delegates: “This is all about one thing: take less and shut the f**k up.”

Meanwhile, Fairfax Media, publisher of a significant quantity of the quality news released in Australia, is debating internally when to start charging readers for the content it publishes on its website. The story is from the Australian, which does charge a weekly fee, so it is paywalled. In my mind the two issues are linked. If readers pay for what they consume, there will be more money available to pay contributors.

As a journalist myself who has worked for nothing in the past, working for no pay does have some benefits but ultimately it in unsustainable. I wrote in November 2010 about the feeling it gave me:
It took about eight months before the feeling I got from giving away stories for free really started to bite, and it bit hard. Frustration. Emptiness. It's terrible to feel exploited, to feel that others who do the same thing as you are being paid for it while you slave away on stories, doing the absolute best job you can, for the mere privilege of being published on an established masthead.
I think that Tasini and others like him were happy to provide content to the Huffington Post when the vehicle was operating on a shoestring. As soon as money entered the picture, however, the landscape changed for good. The goodwill that linked the blogger and the proprietor disappeared when it became obvious that it was all about money in the end. It wasn't about the ideals or causes that motivated the contributors to generate quality content in the first place. It was just about making a buck and, in that case, the bloggers thought, why not give some to me since your success depended on the quality of our writing and the strength of our beliefs.

Huffington betrayed that alliance when she took the money and refused to share any of it with the writers. The strength of their feelings over this case I can understand. It will ensure that the writers will not back down. An appeal on the New York ruling is certain.

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