Huffington Post Hit With $105 Million Lawsuit By 9,000 Angry Unpaid Bloggers

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In its intermittent battles with unpaid writers, The Huffington Post and its (often reluctant) defenders have trotted out a number of arguments, including most commonly the assertion that the bloggers write without compensation for attention, and most like it just fine that way. Others have argued that in fact, the unpaid, sometimes amateur bloggers are not very valuable to the site and should maybe even be paying HuffPo for the honor. But Jonatahn Tasini, a labor advocate, is taking his counterpoints to the forefront today, having filed a class action lawsuit looking to squeeze a minimum of $105 million dollars from Arianna Huffington's Greek fists of fury. All of the details inside Press Clips, our daily media column.

Pay Day, No Way: "The Huffington bloggers have essentially been turned into modern-day slaves on Arianna Huffington's plantation," said Tasini on a conference call today, using inflammatory language on purpose and making a boombastic case for vengeance, especially in the wake of HuffPo's $315 million sale to AOL. "We are going to make Arianna Huffington a pariah in the progressive community," he continued, threatening to picket her house. "Until you do justice here, your life is going to be a living hell," he challenged in the general direction of the site's founder.

HuffPo spokesman Mario Ruiz, who must be tired of saying this, responded that the suit is "wholly without merit" and you can practically hear him sighing through the words:

As we've said before, our bloggers use our platform -- as well as other unpaid group blogs across the Web -- to connect and help their work be seen by as many people as possible," Mr. Ruiz said. "It's the same reason people go on TV shows: to promote their views and ideas.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of around 9,000 bloggers, can be seen here, and a lawyer for the plaintiffs made sure to note that it is "not a contract claim," which would doubtlessly be thrown out right away considering the writers signed up for this.

The $105 million figure is a third of the purchase price, a loosely statistical riff on the three-pronged HuffPo approach that includes staff writing and aggregation along with the volunteer bloggers. But at the New York Times in February, stat god Nate Silver concluded that "unpaid blog posts receive much less traffic than those that The Huffington Post is paying its staff to write or curate."

This should be obvious! As despicable as it seems that Huffington and co. cashed out even a little bit on the backs of unpaid writers, it's just not extreme enough to call for such a large lawsuit, never mind the aggressive language coming with it. Though it does vary, many unpaid HuffPo bloggers fall into one of three categories: a) they're not good enough to write for money and should appreciate the practice space; b) they're using HuffPo as ad space, be it for their upcoming book, their nonprofit, etc.; or c) they're famous already.

In the case of unpaid writers that do huge things for the site, like the woman who reported Barack Obama's notorious "clinging to guns and religion" quote, a fair deal should be worked out and opportunity should follow, but slapping a giant price tag on the work of thousands retroactively is more like a HuffPo-style ALL CAPS HEADLINE than a nuanced plea to be taken seriously. But if we've learned anything from Arianna, maybe it's that the former is how you make money?

AP Activism: In other, seemingly more sane media labor disputes, reporters and photographers from the Associated Press are planning to hold rallies at three dozen news bureaus across the country today over wage and retirement benefits cuts. The workers are protesting a proposed 50 percent cut in retirement benefits and a wage offer they say is below inflation.

As part of the protest, the News Media Guild, which represents the workers, says employees will not use their personal cars or cell phones for covering assignments, nor will they tweet about their stories.

Twelve hundred and fifty workers have been negotiating a new contract since October with the global news agency, which laid off ten percent of its staff in 2009. Employees say they have not received a wage increase in two years.

A number of concessions have already been made, with Businesswire reporting that the organization has agreed to freeze health care premiums following the protests. -- Elizabeth Dwoskin

Newsbleak: Business Insider reports that the latest issue of Tina Brown's Newsweek contains only six advertisements (not counting one for Newsweek's website The Daily Beast), which is a number so small as to sound ridiculous. (The Daily Beast, meanwhile, has a very nice banner ad for Burberry on its homepage, along with a second ad offer "4 FREE TRIAL ISSUES" of Newsweek "TODAY!")

But six sounds like so few ads that we'd love to double-check the claim with a count of our own (was there a printing error maybe?) but that would require purchasing a copy of Newsweek.

High Brow: The New York Times is growing its "Nocturnalist" nightlife column, hoping to bring some magic from the short-lived old gossip slice "Boldface Names." It's a space we've said before could be filled, and this, via Daily Intel, sounds pleasantly absurd: "...from scuba diving off the coast of Brooklyn with a retired police diver to trotting with horses in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria."

American Royalty: Everything Vanity Fair writes is about the Kennedys. Does that enrage you? Here's a statement of purpose against such monarchical tendencies:

In America, the top 1 percent led the country into war and economic devastation, leaving the less fortunate to fight for one and pay for both. Where is the tsunami of outrage over this?

...by none other than Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter in the May issue.

But as a final aside: maybe Trump is just jealous.

[jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com / @joecoscarelli]


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1 comments
Snarl
Snarl

I'm sure you meant OVER 9,000 Angry, Unpaid Bloggers.

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