Ian Burrell: HuffPo's writers may be overplaying their importance

Did the contributors to YouTube claim a windfall when the site was bought by Google for $1.65bn?

Share
Related Topics

"If people go on Newsnight, they don't get paid," said Arianna Huffington on a recent visit to London, trying to explain the difference between someone who works professionally for the media and someone who merely contributes to it.

The Greek-born liberal entrepreneur does not pay bloggers who write for her Huffington Post website and some of them have likened her to a slave master, while suing her for a $105m (£64.5m) slice of the $315m she recently received for selling the site to AOL.

Do they have a case? It depends on how you categorise "content" in an era where almost everybody uses a keyboard and a camera phone. Do those who comment on message boards deserve a stake in the web platform which provides them with an outlet for their views? Did the contributors to YouTube – from schoolchildren to professional film-makers – claim a windfall when the site was bought by Google for $1.65bn in 2006? No.

The Huffington Post is somewhat different. It's not an open house but depends on quality – professional, you might say – writing. Some of her writers gave their services because they believed her promises to be creating a liberal alternative to America's right-leaning networks. They didn't expect her to sell out to a media behemoth.

Others operate differently. Tina Brown, publisher of rival site The Daily Beast, said recently that "as a writer myself, I cannot look other writers in the face and ask them to do things for nothing".

In its early days, the HuffPo could not have afforded to pay all its bloggers but, having acquired 26 million unique monthly visitors it had moved into profit. Not everyone worked for free: Ms Huffington hired 97 full-time editorial staff and 203 employees in total.

None of which means she owes those unpaid bloggers a living. James Brown, founder of the popular British site Sabotage Times, compares the relationship to that of a nightclub and its patrons. "They enjoy dancing at a club and being part of a great atmosphere but get angry when the bloke sells up," he said. "Those people are volunteering to make a great scene."

Sabotage Times, he said, gives its writers a platform for their work to be syndicated and then provides them with 55 per cent of the earnings, above the standard rate. Brown also questioned whether the litigants would have offered to bail Ms Huffington out if she had gone bust.

According to Sunny Hundal of the Liberal Conspiracy blog site: "Bloggers think they're the backbone of a website but it is breaking news, polling information and exclusives which drive readership not opinion." These litigious bloggers might be over-estimating the power of their voice.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice