I have a request for anyone who’s tempted to quote me about the no-pay-for-bloggers situation at the Huffington Post. Please don’t use my words as support for the notion that Arianna Huffington — or her investors or AOL, the new owner of this online media organization — has any legal obligation to pay the site’s op-ed bloggers even a thin dime.
Again and again, unfortunately, journalists and others discussing the matter have used what I wrote back in February, when AOL said it was buying HuffPost for more than $300 million, in ways that do not reflect what I actually believe. The latest example comes from the Miami Herald, where Edward Wasserman has a piece about an anti-Huffington lawsuit that demands payment for the bloggers who, by all accounts, helped bring the site to prominence but were never promised any payment for their work. Wasserman writes of the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff Jonathan Tasini:
He says HuffPost owes its success to the creative work of the unpaid and the unsung, an estimated 9,000 writers in all, and now that Arianna is putting an estimated $100 million of AOL’s money into her own pocketbook, they’re entitled to a little something in the tip jar.
Tasini has drawn some support. The Newspaper Guild, the journalists’ union, called on its 26,000 members not to perform any more free work for HuffPost. Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten likened HuffPost to “a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates.” Dan Gillmor, journalist and Internet theorist, said Huffington should “cut a bunch of checks to a bunch of the most productive contributors on whose work she’s built a significant part of her new fortune.”
The quote, taken from my instant-analysis reaction to the deal, is accurate. I strongly believed then, and still do, that Huffington should be wise and ethical enough to send a small percentage of her (and her investors’) big score to the people who helped her so much in the site’s early days.
But must she be required to do so? Absolutely not.
I do not support Tasini’s lawsuit. In fact, if this case doesn’t get laughed out of court by the first judge who hears it, I’ll be amazed. I’ll also be willing to testify on Huffington’s behalf. Her lawyers are surely smart enough not to call me, of course, because I’d hold my nose as I defended their client, and would explain why to anyone who asked. (I’m not sure whether the hapless Newspaper Guild backs the lawsuit, but as of Sunday, April 24, Wasserman’s column is prominently displayed on the Guild’s website.)
Note: I’m working on piece discussing networked-media creation and compensation. Look for that soon.
Update: Another analysis of the Tasini lawsuit, written by a law student, says I “demanded that Ms. Huffington share the wealth with the unpaid bloggers who helped create it.” That characterization is incorrect (in addition to misspelling my name), as even a casual reading of my original piece makes clear. For a site that says it “reports on the state of legal journalism and encourages conversation about the accuracy and felicity of reporting on law,” perhaps a conversation about accuracy would be useful.