Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Giving It Away For Free: Writing For The Huffington Post

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The drums are beating again.

The anger has swelled and keyboards are being pounded in condemnation.

It’s a fury that’s been simmering for a while. The Huffington Post is under fire for not paying for content, for not paying the bloggers whose words beef up their site. And people are pissed. This time their hackles have been raised by the Editor of the UK Huffington Post, Stephen Hull. In an interview he commented on being “proud of not paying for content” and then went on to say some epically stupid stuff about the integrity of writing being corrupted by payment, or some kind of nonsensical bullshit that I still can’t wrap my brain around.

I get why people are angry. His words were insulting and his reasoning absurd. Hell, I’m angry. This man took the very thing that feeds the machine that pays his “authentic” salary and flicked it off the bottom of his shoe like something he stepped in.

Angry blog posts ensued. You could almost hear the zip and zing of paper being ripped out of typewriters as these denunciations were fired off. They rightly took Hull to task. They thrashed his reasoning and his gall and had me raising my fist in the air in solidarity. Calls for all out war were screamed through key strokes. (You can read those posts here and here and here)

But my fist slowly dropped to my side as I continued to read.

Boycott The Huffington Post. Don’t read it. Don’t share it. Don’t support fellow writers who publish their work there.

I love a good fight. I will always be on the side of the underdog, the down trodden.

I am all for raging against the machine, but I won’t be lacing up my combat boots for this one.

This is not me bowing out. Nor am I taking up the cause for the Huffington Post. I don’t do their bidding. But this is not a situation of the unsuspecting innocents being manhandled by the cruel machinations of a huge corporate conglomerate.

No one is under any illusions that they will make any money or make a living by posting on HuffPost. Unless you’re one of their 200+ unionized employees (who do, in fact, get paid to write/edit/promote/distribute) you are not pulling in a paycheck. But guess what? You’re also not under a contract. You don’t have to show up. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t like the HuffPost model? Don’t send them your content.

But the fact is, a lot of bloggers do like it. They like it so much they send their blog posts there. Often.

I  happen to be one of those people. It works for me. I don’t write original material for HuffPost. I use it to syndicate my work. I only send them previously published blog posts. And I have yet to meet any blogging or media entities that pay for syndicated material. If I’m going to write an original blog post for money I have a list of sites that I can submit to. Huffington Post is not on that list. They are on another list.

They are on the exposure and influence list.

Before you start telling me that exposure won’t pay the rent, a la Wil Wheaton, let me assure you that I know that. But I also don’t buy into the idea that exposure = selling out.

Exposure = marketing.

Let’s be real. If you’re writing beyond your own private diary, you need to be in the business of marketing. And marketing in all its forms is part of the deal. Let’s not play silly games pretending it’s not. Why else would we spend countless hours building our Twitter/FaceBook/Pinterest/GooglePlus/StumbleUpon followings? Because we’re all Social Media whores who are desperate for attention? Well, maybe. But mostly because we want people to read our words. None of us are here to shout into the abyss. We want views, clicks, comments, shares. We want exposure.

Yes. Exposure. It has value. Does it pay my bills? No. Maybe one day it will, but until then my bread is buttered elsewhere. I may not be filling my belly with that sought after exposure, but I am not starving because of it either.

Exposure. After a blog post of mine went viral, Huffington Post grabbed it and put it on their front page. Three months later I’m still getting steady traffic. And more eyes on a topic I care about.

Exposure was crucial for my friend who wrote about her daughters terminal illness. After being on HuffPost her FaceBook page swelled to over 10,000 likes. She was able to raise awareness and money for the devastating rare disease she and other families are fighting to fund a clinical trial for.

Exposure resulted in an invite for a fellow blogger to appear on The Jenny McCarthy Radio Show.

Exposure has resulted in bloggers being contacted by Agents and Publishers and regular paying writing jobs in some cases.

All of this was exposure from “free” non-paid writing that was published on Huffington Post.

But artists shouldn’t work for free, right? I’m not suggesting they should, unless they want to – and some people do art for the sake of art. Struggling artists all give their stuff away. It’s networking. It’s publicity.

An up and coming singer may do a free radio show. Clear Channel can probably afford to fork over some cash to the newcomer, but not too many wannabe pop stars are going to quibble over dollars if they can reach a massive audience in a one-off opportunity.

Photographers show their work in a gallery just to generate buzz.

Authors give away their books on Kindle for free to boost their Amazon rankings.

Hell. Sometimes bloggers pay for exposure. They “Boost” their post on FaceBook.

Bloggers do guest posts for exposure. All the time.

But…  you’re telling me that I shouldn’t do it on a site with 100 million readers because the corporate fat cats that run said site are fat? Because one of their editors spouted off some ridiculous dribble? I am not concerned one bit with their personalities or their wealth. I’m happy to take full advantage of the system. I’m grateful there’s a place that allows me to publish my posts with no concerns for whether it’s been published here, there or everywhere.

I’m looking at the long game. And for me that game involves writing for exposure, writing for money and ultimately building a strong portfolio that will get me to my ultimate goal of having my novel published. Or a steady writing gig with The Atlantic. Or both. I’m not picky.

You see, I have a plan. And I get a little testy when someone tries to tell me how to play it.

So these posts, these stormy words that are intended to galvanize us and demand our worth? I get it. I do. But syndicating a blog post to the largest digital platform in the world isn’t decreasing my stock value. And these people calling for a boycott? They are bad ass writers. They are the people that most of us look up to and learn from. And I know their aim is true and their passion fueled by camaraderie for the writing community as a whole. And I appreciate that. I have huge respect for them.

But don’t tell me what’s best for me.

Don’t tell me to forsake my place at the table, I don’t care how crowded it is. I worked to get to that table. I’m not giving up my seat just yet.

Don’t tell me that exposure is overrated when you have book deals. When you’ve made it in the publishing world. When you are a famous actor who’s fame garners you a heavy following. Don’t dismiss the value of a large platform when you’re yelling through a megaphone from your own lofty perch. You made it. I have immense respect for the ass busting it took to get where you are. But excuse me while I make my way.

Huffington Post may be using me by accepting my words on to their site. That’s fine by me. I’m using them too. There’s no sweat furrowing my brow. Not to copy and paste something I already toiled over.

And giving it away for free does not a harlot nor a victim make. I’m getting mine, getting it in SEO advantages, followers and readers.

All I’m saying to my fellow writers and bloggers, is you do you and I’ll do me. Your path to get to where you are wanting to go is yours to decide. I won’t judge you for it or try to tell you how to do it. I will applaud you, read you, support you. You see, I believe strongly in this community of writers. I have learned and grown from reading and in some cases knowing you. If you don’t want your words published on The Huffington Post, I respect that.

I’m just saying don’t try to burn down the house before you consider all those who are taking shelter.

And for those of you who are staring at a shelf of books with your name on them or drying the ink on your own book deal, those of you who’ve “made it”…  you guys are my heroes. You guys give me hope every day that I’ll one day deserve a seat at the cool table. And when I get there I’ll shake your hand and thank you for being an inspiration to a thirsty writer. When I get there, I’ll lend support to my fellow writers, both big and small.

Until then, I’ll be here. Pounding away on my own keyboard.





56 Responses

  1. I agree with you; while it is true that it would not kill them to pay to a writer, the fact that they are fine re-posting stuff you already published, kind of balances it out. When I first heard of them not paying the writers, I thought – “Such assholes!” but when I give it some more thought, yes, I have written for another blog with greater exposure and it was content I haven´t published elsewhere and I didn´t feel exploited nor was I secretly pissed off. Why wouldn´t I let someone re-use an article which is already on my site, if I can get more readers to find my other writing and stick with me? A coin has two sides, as we say in my language.

    1. Exactly. If they were demanding only original material I would laugh at the thought. I barely have time to write for my own blog and if I’m you’re demanding original material you better pay!

      1. True. I used to write a lot for my blogs but now that I started to learn about promoting via the social media, most of my energy and work is devoured by that. I kind of miss the old days when I would just write every day, every two days, solely for the love of writing, although I wouldn´t get even 10% of the attention to it that I get with the SM…(which is still very little, haha) – also I miss those blogs that weren´t aimed at gaining money, but were written by people about their lives, just to share…hm. I guess there is no going back though 🙂

        1. I have a love/hate with social media. I have formed some great friendships with other bloggers through SM. But I have to take periodic breaks. Sometimes it just gets overwhelming and absolutely takes away from writing time! It’s the lament I hear from just about every blogger and writer.

  2. Yes… I think people should be raising their fists about HuffPo not giving writers anything, and for bragging about it — but they shouldn’t be doing so by penalizing the writers who are choosing to use HuffPo in the meantime as part of their plan.

    1. What he said was so ridiculous. And not smart as far as PR.

      I read an interesting article by Nate Silver that broke the blogging/payment issue on HuffPost down by the numbers. The reality is that most of our posts don’t do anything for HuffPost. They don’t add any value or bring in any traffic. It’s the rare blog post that they put on their main pages that maybe get some traction. But the majority of them just languish in the HuffPost “Blog” and only get a handful of views. So financially? Most posts would be worth nothing, maybe pennies. The others that make it on the main pages worth a handful of dollars. It was kind of depressing, actually. Much of their big content that draws in the readers is Associated Press articles, their staff articles and the articles they receive from famous people. (I wish I’d read the article before finishing my post because I feel like it really illustrates a big reason why they don’t pay. We don’t generate numbers that equal ad revenue)

      1. That all makes a lot of sense. 🙂 I still feel like those who CAN should at least give some sort of fiscal compensation to contributors – it’s just good form. But if you aren’t, don’t be a jerk about it!

  3. Yes to all of this! I don’t publish on HuffPo as often any more (mostly because I’m not publishing ANYTHING as much anymore – ha!), but I use it the same way as you. To get a little more life out of syndicated posts I care about. And it HAS led to a paying gig for me. I also see it as free marketing for my book. So the way I look at it, I’m really using them just as much as they are using me.

    1. Yep. I look at it as quid pro quo. Works for me! I think that one of the arguments is that it is leading to writers getting paid/valued less other places… I have no idea if there’s anything to that since I haven’t been in it that long. I look at it like you are paid for what you bring to the table. Are you bringing a service or value that is unique? Are you bringing viewers? Are your skills above par therefore preferable to others? I’m really curious to know if it’s affecting other areas of revenue for writers, but I’m not sure how you could assess that…

      1. Me either. At the same time, I would imagine blogging in general could be partially to blame for writers being valued less. I mean, the market is obviously flooded. If one writer refuses a job because it doesn’t pay enough, there are 100 willing to accept. To put too much blame on one entity seems silly. And just a decade ago, NONE of these opportunities existed for most of us.

        So, glass half full, I say.

  4. I always thought that writing was a business but many people get offended by that! And, all businesses need exposure and freebies to get noticed. It’s as simple as that. You’re wise to send your previously published work there so that you’re not exactly working to get that notice! In fact, most of my friends do the same!

    1. Yes, I don’t know anyone who sends original content to HuffPost. And as far as syndicated content, just about nobody pays for that! And yes, I view writing as a business too. I do want to accomplish certain things and they involve getting paid!

  5. Ah, finally! Someone had the sense to say it. I too nodded my head all too vigorously when I read those posts. But then I thought – Just like you said – I only give them posts that have already been published on my blog. And to be honest, I’ve had plenty of ‘buzz’ generated due to these posts being on HuffPo and other sites. So, well said and let’s keep tapping away at the keyboard.

    1. Thank you Sid! Yes, their posts were powerful. And I wanted to join in and get caught up in fighting the good fight. But I just couldn’t buy into all of it. I have seen no downside to publishing there. And I keep hearing more and more stories of people who got other paid writing jobs after being on HuffPost, which only makes me want to go through my archives and send in more posts!

  6. I think that what Hull said is insulting, misleading, and deeply flawed. I think that anyone whose salary comes entirely from an organization built on publishing massive amounts of written content shows absolute callousness by having such an opinion.

    But I don’t think that HuffPo itself, or their way of publishing, is necessarily a bad thing. I think that if writers are smart enough to give them previously published posts that can generate a buzz, there is a lot of good that can come from publishing there.

    1. Callous. That’s a good word for it. And completely lacking self awareness. I just said this in the above comment, but I’ve seen no downside with the pieces I’ve published there. In fact, I think UpWorthy saw my post via HuffPost and that’s when they contacted me to publish it with them (and they pay, by the way!) I never even knew they took submissions!

    1. Haha! No, I don’t think it’s necessarily obvious. The only reason I was aware of it is because I had specifically searched for places that take syndicated posts. I wanted to broaden my reach but knew I had no time to write original posts and keep up my own blog. So I made lists of sites that will syndicate, sites that pay and sites that I wanted to be published on just because I was a fan. (By the way, if you aren’t in the Beyond Your Blog group on FB, you absolutely need to join. Susan is probably the most valuable source of information out there in regards to publishing beyond your blog. She’s amazing!)

  7. Such a well-written response. Separating out the money-makers who don’t need HuffPost from the rest of us is a really important distinction. Thanks for the perspective!

    1. Thank you Erin! And I think HuffPost is a great place for those of us still trying to get noticed. Along with the other big sites that take submissions.

      Some of this reminded me of when Tidal (JayZ’s music service) came out. They were going to charge users and something about it didn’t sit well with me. I think the part that bothered me was that indie musicians would be left out. So, that’s great that all the label artists get compensated for their music, but how does that help the up and comers? (They’ve since changed their model to make it more inclusive for indie artists). Sorry for the random analogy, but it speaks to your point.

    1. Thank you Sabina! I’m going to put a link here, not because I am trying to be obnoxious, but because I think you’ll find it interesting. Nate Silver breaks down the numbers of what all these blog posts would actually be worth if they did pay bloggers. I wish I would have found it before writing this because I absolutely would have included it in this post!

  8. THIS. This is why I fucking love you. When I read Chuck Wendig’s post on this, I was pissed! I have never been on Huffpo, but so many of my friends have and I instantly went into battle mode for them. I was happy to boycott Huffpo if it meant something else would balance out in the writer world. What I didn’t take into account was exposure, and syndicated content, and other details that weren’t considered in Chuck’s post. Now, with a clearer perspective, I see the benefits of contributing to Huffpo without being paid. I think everyone needs to educate themselves on both sides and decide what’s right for them. Period.

    As for magazines and other sites that don’t pay writers? I think it depends on the exposure and whether or not it’s original content. I know a lot of freelance writers who are told their payment is exposure in situations where it is absolutely taking advantage of the writer’s time, talent, and effort.


    1. *blush* I love it when you curse and say you love me…

      I am curious to know if it would balance out something else. That’s what I was searching for before I wrote this. If there was something, some proof or evidence or something tangible that HuffPost was having a negative affect on writers getting paid I would be on board and screw my SEO or any other benefits I get. But I couldn’t find anything and none of those posts (Wendig, etc) pointed to anything. And the fact that they are the largest digital media entity to unionize its writers is HUGE I think. I think that will have a long lasting effect more than anything else. But, I haven’t been doing this that long so maybe there is stuff I don’t know. I actually would like to know more about that side of the discussion.

  9. You always ALWAYS know what to say. It’s WONDERFUL! Gretchen, I could kiss you for once again having the even-tempered, common-senseful, NOT-THE-KNEE-JERK reaction to all this.

    You’re bloody MARVELLOUS!

  10. Thank you for so thoughtfully explaining the other side to the story. The bottom line is that this should not be about writers admonishing or judging other WRITERS. We all need to follow our own paths. What may work for one, doesn’t have to fit another.

    1. Yes! I love love love your comment! We should not start down the path of judging or condemning other writers. That would lead to very bad things and a lot of fractured friendships/support/partnerships. Thank you so much!

  11. Thank you for this. I appreciate the righteous indignation that this has swelled up (to some degree) but I’d love to put the right blog post on HuffPost for exposure alone, and I’m thinking that’s why most people do it.

    1. Thank you Katie! Yes, I wanted so much to get caught up in it, I really do love being a part of a movement. I just couldn’t get past the benefits for so many bloggers. I keep hearing more and more stories about paid writing jobs as a result of being on HuffPost…

  12. Money is a scam. Only time matters. If publishing for free, gives you more free time, then the only harm is they let that idiot speak in public. Stick him behind a desk or under it.

    Getting paid for something that benefits you is like getting paid for dancing at a night club. Unless you bring in the crowd, you won’t get paid. Does anyone get paid for open mic?

    1. I mean, I like money and getting paid is awesome. But there are plenty of places that do that, right? HuffPost offers a unique opportunity. And yes, they should probably not let Stephen Hull speak in public any more!

  13. Spot on! There’s a lot to be said for branding yourself – as well as SEO ranking – which is priceless when it comes to online reputation. That in and of itself, is worth the value of writing for HuffPost. They rank very well on search engines. As someone that speaks regularly about maintaining your digital profile – this is a great way to add to your virtual resume. Thanks so much for sharing this! (Full disclosure – I write for HuffPost – for free “indirectly” – as your post brilliantly outlines.)

    1. Thank you so much Sue! And yes, the SEO ranking is huge! I’m watching my stats since my last post on there that generated a lot of views and shares and I’m seeing more “general term” search engine traffic that maybe would have gone elsewhere before. I didn’t even mention the traffic you get when the HuffPost FaceBook page shares your post, that was a huge boost as well!

  14. Great post Sue! I’d say you are already sitting at the “cool table!” 🙂 As a newcomer to the blogging scene, I too am looking for a place to share my writing and work with a larger audience and Huffington Post is right at the top of my list! Thank you!

  15. This post was definitely one heck of a read. I’m fairly new to blogging but the feedback has been surreal since the birth of my blog a few weeks ago. Reading this gave me more of an introduction into what the blogging world is really like. Sending in content to the Huffing Post was already on my “to do list” and this right here was definitely helpful as far as helping me form the right attitude when it comes to getting exposure and getting my voice out there. Thank you for this. Peace and love to you.

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