Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writer says websites exploit freelancers

We want to call to your attention an article by Sarah Henry, posted at KQED’s Bay Area Bites, about the plight of freelancers in an era when news websites are often paying their writers next to nothing, or nothing at all.

Henry says that the sale of Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million “was fabulous news for the already fabulously wealthy Arianna Huffington and her cronies, but a slap in the face for the army of unpaid wordsmiths on which the HuffPo has built a blog empire using, essentially, the slave labor of journalists who wrote posts for free in the hope it may make a difference, including to their cash flow, down the track.”

Later on in the piece, Henry says:
    But I've taken to adopting the mantra "adapt or die," and find myself -- like many mid-career scribblers -- struggling to find a way to make a living in a field where the landscape has changed dramatically. Although I shifted to food writing two years ago, a notoriously under-paid beat, I've been able to eke out an income by diversifying and carving out a niche. 
    The jury is out on whether this experiment will work, and there are days when I wonder if I should go fill out an application at Trader Joe's. I know scores of writers, both freelancers and those who used to be staffers, who feel the same way.
And this ...
    [W]hat we have going on here is sweatshop conditions akin to the old economy's industrial capitalism: Poorly paid piecework and huge profits for the owners. Something has to shift.
Not only is Henry’s article spot on, but the comments are worth reading, too. P.S. We stole the graphic, top right, from her posting on the KQED site.


Robert B. Livingston said...

It is not only journalists who are being exploited today--

It is still a dirty secret that government and business leaders today routinely exploit and thwart eager students, interns and volunteers who hoped to break in to paying work and careers-- while rewarding themselves and cronies magnificent perks, salaries, and bonuses.

The education system and its usurious (and unpardonable) loans also routinely extract blood from the naive who still invest into bygone mythologies. Maybe not slaves, they are the indentured, who may soon be slaves.

The Open Source movement freely gave us marvels of technology and skins to clothe ideas, scholarship, and journalistic content on the web.

Theirs is fundamentally a sound communitarian model which did not conspire to contribute to our current malaise, but it was easy to exploit by those who celebrated a zero-sum competition to lower their own labor costs.

It would be ideal if all, including journalists, were paid justly-- but I no longer expect it in our corrupted capitalist system.

Perhaps if all workers and citizens joined to repudiate it rather than place hope in number-crunchers and marketing gurus to squeeze juice from a drying husk-- there might be a straw of hope for a better future-- or for at least some tantalizing bribes, such as those the Royal Saud is doling out to its people quiet.

Anonymous said...

Care to tell us what was paid for use of the photograph used with this blog post? I'd like to learn more about this freelancer payment scandal.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, these writers have to get smarter. A lot of the content on patch/huffington post/content farms is crappy... it's stuff most people who read it "glaze" over it.

what they are producing--unfortunately--is not that valuable anymroe. they have to find a way to make it valuable, and blaming the huffpo or patch (and i'm not a fan of them or their business model) isn't going to do anythign.