Huffington Post UK: Writing for free is a ‘grey area’

As the Huffington Post goes live with its UK site today, ahead of the official launch event this evening, many journalists feel the site is wrong to recruit 300 unpaid bloggers.

Dave Lee, freelance journalist at the BBC, thinks that the Huffington Post causes damage to journalism.


While Manchester-based freelance journalist Louise Bolotin criticised Arianna Huffington for her policy.!/louisebolotin/status/88569148866703360


However, not all reaction has been negative. Kat Brown has written a piece for Huffington Post’s lifestyle section titled Writing for Free Doesn’t Have to Mean Betrayal.

Writing for free is a grey area. Despite the ubiquity (and importance) of blogs and that many high profile sites trade content for prestige only, it’s often looked down upon if it makes up part of your career. When, as a newly-hatched post-grad, I joined one journalism forum, the stance was: “Don’t write unless you’re paid. It undermines you and it undermines journalism.”

So why write for free?

Free is why people write fanzines, update blogs and tweet. It’s pressure off, it’s the opportunity to practise something you enjoy and share it with people immediately. And particularly online, there’s a limited supply of people who will pay. My pitching skills are sufficiently atrocious that, if I were only to write for money outside my main job, I would probably forget how to hold a pencil within a year. I don’t want that, because I love writing and I need to do it.

Take a look at the full article here.


14 thoughts on “Huffington Post UK: Writing for free is a ‘grey area’

  1. Patrick Smith

    I’m not sure it is so easy to say that people writing without payment is killing the industry. There are lots of reasons people contribute to HuffPo, not least, in many cases, because they enjoy it and are seeking a wider audience for their opinions.

    In many cases it’s for self-promotion and even indirect financial gain. Have you noticed the affiliate links selling authors’ books? Roy Greenslade’s HuffPo UK post this morning was accompanied by Amazon links to his books. HuffPo is relaxed about promoting its writers and their company/site – whether they are corporate executives, individual journalists, or someone that wouldn’t identify themselves as either. I’d be happy to write for them and I hope to do so soon.

    HuffPo does hire journalists and indeed has hired several talented people for the UK launch. Their job is to curate and link to the best stuff out there and invite people to contribute blog posts if they wish. It’s an additive force in journalism, not a divisive one and I fail to see how that’s a bad thing for the evolution of our industry.

    On a slightly unrelated note, HuffPo shows how social sharing, registration and inter-member interaction is really done and there’s a lot to learn from it.

  2. Keir

    After nearly an half hour of ad-blockin­g just to get rid of all the pop-ups, ads, badges (who the hell cares that Alex Gartzia is a level 2 superuser, whatever the hell that means), social network promotions­, suggestion­s, video pics, selected bloggers etc etc etc just to be able to read a damn article hosted on the Huffington Post, I gave up. Having to get through so much fluff and nonsense just to read an article that originates elsewhere takes the cake. It reminds me why I stopped going there in the first place.

  3. Chris Wheal

    I keep asking if someone can quantify their estimated earnings as a result of writing for HuffPo for free.

    Or is just a gut feeling it will work out in the end?

  4. Patrick Smith

    Chris – I have a lot of respect for your stance on this because it comes from a zero tolerance approach to abuse of journalists and that’s a good thing.

    But – how much do people get paid for going on Newsnight? How much do people get paid for their personal blogs? The thing about HuffPo is: if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it. It’s not a full-time job, it’s 300-1000 words as often or not as you like – the kind of thing that millions of people do for free anyway as part of a global culture of online discussion and debate.

    On a practical level I would argue that if a journalist can position themselves as an authority on a subject through writing unpaid for a high profile site like that it can only help their chances of gaining more paid commissions and jobs in future.

  5. Tara Bradford

    Huffington Post/AOL is disingenuous in its refusal to pay writers, calling them “bloggers,” as though that makes this practice alright. For some time, American and Canadian writers have been boycotting HuffPost for its refusal to pay its writers. Further, HuffPost seems to have few, if any, editors or proofreaders, as articles are often published full of errors. In the last couple of years, HuffPost has taken on a decidely down-market tabloid bent with increased focus on entertainment news and sensationalism. None of this bodes well for journalism and objective, accurate reporting.

  6. Louise Bolotin

    I have no objection to people appearing unpaid on Newsnight or whatever, I’ve been a talking head myself for BBC Radio as well as NewsWatch plus TalkSport, among others. And of course if people want to blog for free, why wouldn’t they set up their own?

    But there is something fundamentally wrong with the business model of a multimillion-dollar corporation based on refusing to pay its writers. I’m sure the IT staff are being paid. And it’s worrying that no one is willing or able to answer Chris’s question.

    I personally don’t like the site anyway, the design is messy, cluttered and difficult to navigate. It holds no attraction for me whatsoever on those grounds so however good some of the content may be I’m unlikely to bother wading through the mire to get to it. In which case my opinion will probably count for very little for the vast majority.

  7. Chris Wheal

    I do loads of stuff for people for free: for the NUJ, for charities, for schools, universities, for individuals. The local paper could not send a reporter to my son’s cricket club when former England player Derek Underwrood was there this month so I went, interviewed him, reported it and did a video, all for nowt, so the cricket club got the exposure it deserves.

    Loads of journalists do the same – writing for fan sites, giving advice on forums (fora for Latin geeks) and so on.

    But I don’t believe people are writing for HuffPo out of altruism.

    I am genuinely interested if they have calculated how much it might be worth or if they are just hoping it will lead to paid work elsewhere and how long they intend to experiment.

  8. Patrick Smith

    Without wanting to sound too pedantic, it’s not true to say HuffPo is refusing to pay anyone. Refusing is turning down a request – hundreds of people are happy to write for nothing and are not requesting payment, for varieties of reasons as I say above.

    Tara – I dare say that much of what journalists produce in this country is based on celebrities and entertainment, mainly because that’s what people like reading.

  9. Jonathan Frost

    I’m writing for free for the exposure and the experience. Today, my work was one of the featured posts on the front page- and damn it felt good.

    I’m a student, not a ‘proper’ journalist. Ideally, one day, someone will pay me to write, but right now I don’t expect them to. It’s them same wih work experience; I don’t get paid and that’s the way it is.

    The idea that HuffPo is in someway exploiting me is ridiculous. Writing on HuffPo has given me my biggest audience yet and a nice bump of twitter followers; it’s been mutually beneficial. If paid journos don’t want to write then that’s fine – hopefully they are producing a higher quality of content, and that will always be paid for, but my decision to exploit this platform for an audience, exposure, cv points and all the rest, is my decision.

    Why should others have a dictatorial say in what I do and where I write?

    Twitter: @Frost_J

  10. Louise Bolotin

    Patrick, without wishing to be too pedantic, the Oxford Dictionary’s primary definition of refuse is “indicate unwillingness to do something or to accept or grant something”.

    The HuffPo business model is based on an unwillingness to pay its writers and on that basis it’s little more than a content farm.

    I’m with Chris in that many journalists do all kinds of stuff for free all the time, but I think we both see little point or value in writing for a large corporation for nothing on a regular basis with no clear reward. There’s no guarantee that anyone writing for it will gain from the exposure – all they’ll be doing for sure is helping line Ms Huffington’s already well-lined pockets.

  11. Chris Wheal

    Without wishing to sound pedantic, have you asked if they have refused anyone who requested payment? I think you will find they have.

  12. Bernie Russell

    There’s a lot to be said for writing for free. I’d willingly do so for a worthy cause, or if I was writing about a hobby of mine for a specialist site.

    There’s also a case to be made for young journalists offering their work for free if there’s something in it for them – some mentoring, proper work experience,some kind of pledge of future work, etc.

    It’s not a strong case. Young plumbers don’t fix leaks for free, and young lawyers certainly don’t sue for free. I’m not sure why young journalists should be treated any differently.

    But even if there is a case, it couldn’t possibly apply to the Huffington Post UK. This isn’t work experience. There’s no guidance or support. All they’re providing is a free hosting service with an upmarket banner.

    Yes, I know there’s no shortage of volunteers. But that’s because jobs are scarce and young journalists are hungry and ambitious. It seems a shame to take advantage of that – especially when, as I mentioned in a tweet, Huffpost trousered $315m from the AOL deal in March.

    So if they really want to encourage young journalists, how about funding a young journalists’ project with some of that dosh? How about doing it properly, with quality control, a fair pay scale, maybe even a job offer of some sort?

    That would be a great way for Huffpost to announce itself to the UK.

  13. Jonathan Frost

    @Bernie Russell

    I’m dreaming. Don’t think HuffPo is to blame here though, it’s the industry as a whole that has aspiring journalists jumping through hoops for free. I contribute wherever I can, and have never been paid.

    However, please do send your proposal off to Arianna…

  14. Chris Wheal

    @Frost_J calling others in a debate dictatorial is unhelpful.

    We have law in this county that says companies must pay workers at least the minimum wage. There are good exceptions and HuffPo may be exploiting a loophole. But it is the same argument about those who volunteer to work for companies on unpaid internships. It is against the law for the company not to pay them.

    Yes this gets in the way. But most laws do. If to get from A to B I need to drive at 50mph but the speed limit is 30mph the law gets in the way. Some people break the law. They are usually thought of as at least inconsiderate and often irresponsible, uncaring and even mean.

    What if the result of your blogging for free is not paid work in the future but that other publishers that currently pay follow HuffPo and cease paying, expecting their bloggers to write for free too?

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