The Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
2004-06 NSNC President
Many columnists write for free on The Huffington Post, with the aim of parlaying the exposure into money elsewhere. But does it happen? Many writers have long been angry with HP for not paying its writers, but today is that feeling just as strong? Columnists and bloggers share both positives and pitfalls.
For myself, in 2010 I was proud to be a Huffington Post blogger, but then I never posted regularly. HP is a tremendous engine for self-promotion, but I didn’t give it full throttle. Why? I poured my energy into paid work, writing books, and teaching workshops.
If I write for free, it’s for community organizations or for Humor Outcasts where I so enjoy the creative commonality. However, others have used their HP credential to impressive and successful advantage. That said, HP has not played a significant part in where I am today.
Dave Astor — author, literary blogger, and columnist for The Montclair Times of New Jersey:
“I no longer write for The Huffington Post — and one of the reasons is its no-pay policy for guest bloggers. The anger of many writers about that first peaked in 2011, when AOL purchased HP for $315 million and bloggers didn’t get a penny. I think anger and controversy over this exploitation is now just as strong, partly fueled by Verizon’s 2015 acquisition of AOL (including HP) for a whopping $4.4 billion while bloggers remain unpaid.
“Bloggers do get exposure working for HP. But maybe it’s best if bloggers stay with HP just a year or two to build or expand their audience and then leave. Though I can see staying at HP for a longer time in order to have another forum to sell one’s books.
“When I was at HP, and my literature posts were getting tons of views and comments, one “benefit” of the exposure was receiving several other writing offers. But all those offers were to once again write FOR FREE. Sheesh. Getting exposure to get exposure to get exposure. That kind of no-income-producing carousel was one reason I had to sell my house last year while top AOL and HP execs raked in the money.
“By the way, after a couple years of my literature posts bringing lots of traffic to HP, I asked the site if I could get some modest payment. The answer was an emphatic ‘no.'”
Mike Leonard — NSNC 2002-04 president, senior associate editor for Bloom Magazine in Bloomington, Indiana, and an adjunct lecturer for The Media School at Indiana University, Bloomington:
“I still hear a lot of disgust over HP. It really seems to break down into people who have worked for traditional media and gotten paid to do journalism and people who are freelancing or otherwise looking to break into writing for publications and getting their name and work out to be seen.
“I worked in the newspaper business for 35 years as a reporter and general interest columnist for The Herald-Times in Bloomington covering meetings, working weekends, and doing the daily job of in-the-trenches reporting. I’m still offended by the no-pay model. HP has been successful, a lot of eyeballs go there and, it has to be said, it’s not difficult to see a multimillionaire at the top.
“I have lots of friends and colleagues who enjoy being seen in HuffPo. I get that. But in effect it’s a little like scabs working to defeat a union. Writer wages are quite low and as long as people are willing to create content for free, pay will remain low.
“Publicity may equal payment to freelancers. I am freelancing myself, now. But the overall effect of The Huffington Post not only takes advantage of its writers but continues to keep the pay scale low for the people who cover those dreadful meetings and do real investigative journalism.
“So I don’t believe the controversy over The Huffington Post model has subsided at all. They are still asking writers to work for free. It’s like the lawyer analogy when people ask lawyer friends for advice. ‘Hey, this is what I do for a living.’ Writers deserve no less respect.”
Maggie Van Ostrand — award-winning humorist whose muse is her dog; her columns have been published both online and hard copy in U.S. newspapers from the Amarillo Globe News in Texas to the Willits News in California, as well as in Canada and Mexico:
“Exposure on HP helped when included in bios or submissions to other publications, because the Huffington name was a powerful one. ‘Contributor at Huffington Post‘ was an asset, though I don’t recall any paying work resulting from the actual articles.
“Even with a lot of reader comments following my articles, the ‘team’ eventually decided to disallow the all-important comments. I stopped submitting when they stopped using accompanying photos, for which I’d spent a lot of time searching and obtaining use permission (and which their own Guidelines said were important to a story). In addition, they began to bury my articles. Without the ‘exposure’ they touted instead of payment, they were of no further use to me.
“HP has changed enormously in that it’s gone from Huffington to Hearstian, self-promoting and salacious. It’s often 24-48 hours late with their versions of the ‘news.’ I think Arianna must not check in too often because she’s a wonderful writer with serious game. I no longer can say the same for the publication that bears her name.
The best way to use HP is as part of a CV [resume], or, for beginners, to say, ‘I write for The Huffington Post.’ That fact should be a nice entrance into something better (hopefully paying).”
Elaine Ambrose — author and blogger:
“Yes, there remains a controversy about HP not paying its regular contributors. However, in my opinion, my posts take less than two hours to write and help keep my brain from turning into mush. I’ve been published on The Huffington Post more than 100 times over the past year. Each post contains photos of two of my books and a link to how they can be purchased. I see my sales increase every time I have a popular post. My viral post was reprinted in several languages and attracted book buyers from other countries. Those who are offended about writing for HuffPo shouldn’t submit anything.”
Suzette here again: Getting eyeballs on your work is vital, but making a living is the goal. Free writing as a stepping stone needs to make cents in the end. Good luck!
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This piece first was published in the October 2015 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.