Being consistently pro-union puts one in an awkward position when unions start making some very inconvenient demands. The Huffington Post is learning that lesson the hard way.
On the heels of AOL's $315 million HuffPo buyout - the largest such acquisition in the blogosphere's short history - the Newspaper Guild said the following in a letter to Arianna Huffington (h/t Joe Pompeo):
As we look to the future, we look to you, Arianna Huffington, as a leader in web-based news coverage, to demonstrate your commitment to the value of journalism, and to help prevent independent journalists from having to settle for third-world wages.
The Los Angeles Times's Tim Rutten had likened HuffPo to "a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates" for its legion of unpaid, volunteer bloggers. Those bloggers generally post a bit less than half of each weekday's political stories (on average), though those posts consistently attract far fewer readers than the ones written by HuffPo's paid staff.
HuffPo spokesman Marco Ruiz responded with this message:
We couldn't agree more with your goal of ensuring journalists are paid for their work. It's why HuffPost has 143 editors, writers, and reporters on our edit team. But we feel there's a critical distinction between our editors and reporters and the people who contribute to our group blog. While we pay our editors and reporters, we don't pay for the opinion pieces submitted by our thousands of bloggers. The vast majority of our bloggers understand the value of having a platform that reaches a very large audience. People blog on HuffPost for free for the same reason they go on cable TV shows every night for free—because they are passionate about their ideas, want them to be heard by the largest possible audience, and understand the value that that kind of visibility can bring.
The Newspaper Guild wasn't having any of it. Bernie Lunzer, the union's president, responded:
We continue to have great concerns about the HuffPost model and its long-term effect on journalism. I am not at all surprised that you see it as a simple matter.
"Its long term effect on journalism" is code for its long-term effect on journalists' wages. That is the central objection from the union's perspective.
And if the union believes HuffPo's model will reduce journalists' wages, they are not likely to budge. So a site that has consistently painted labor unions as a wonderful anti-corporate force for good is now apparently on the receiving end.