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Arts writers declare 'strike' against Huffington Post

February 28, 2011 |  5:30 pm

Huffington Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, has long espoused progressive political views, which has made her website's reliance on unpaid writers a rather awkward sticking point for the left-leaning pundit. Now Huffington's values are being put to the test by a group of arts writers, largely from Southern California, who are asking to be paid for their contributions to the site.

Writers for the websites ArtScene and Visual Art Source said Monday that they are declaring a "strike" against HuffPo, to which they have contributed content since the summer of 2010. In their announcement, the writers listed two primary demands: that a pay schedule be proposed and initiated for all contributing writers and bloggers, and that paid promotional material no longer be posted alongside editorial content.

They also objected to the HuffPo's publishing of catalogue essays โ€” non-journalistic pieces that usually serve a commercial function for art galleries โ€” without separating them from other editorial content.

"It is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing," said the writers in their announcement.

"It is extremely unethical to not merely blur but eradicate the distinction between the independent and informed voice of news and opinion and the voice of a shill."

Bill Lasarow, the publisher and editor of the two websites, said in an interview that the move is "not a hostile act in any sense whatsoever," but added that the writers felt "like they were being taken advantage of by the company to make an enormous profit."

He said that the action was prompted at least in part by the HuffPo's recent sale to AOL for a reported $315 million.

Writers for ArtScene and Visual Art Source are located all over the country, but most of them are based in Southern California. The network of freelance journalists are paid by Lasarow to write about the visual arts, galleries, museums and other cultural topics.

Lasarow said that the writers initially agreed to allow their blog posts for the two sites to appear on HuffPo with the knowledge that they were not employees and that they would not be paid. He said writers from the sites contributed content to HuffPo at least once a week on average.

Representatives of HuffPo have not responded yet to the call for strike, Lasarow said.


On the Media: Arianna Huffington's new challenge

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โ€” David Ng

Photo: Arianna Huffington arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party at the Sunset Tower on Sunday. Credit: Carlo Allegri / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (21)

About time.

It is about time that professional art writers stand up and educate
the public about the art system. The lines between commercial and
independent speech in the arts is too often blurry. Art writers are
among the least paid and least understood in all of journalism.
And yet, artists' careers are built upon the foundation of essays,
reviews and critical notices. Art writers are the first on the scene,
the first to shape opinion and then all too quickly brushed aside
once their vital function is performed. Time to stand up for ourselves.
Huffington Post has an opportunity to highlight our role and to do better
in its columns. Be as progressive in the visual arts as you are in politics,
or perhaps even more progressive. Think about it Ariana!!

It seems like at least some of that $300 Million could be used to pay freelancers, doesn't it?

Anytime an artist, which includes writers, gives their work away for free they deserve what they get for their work. If we don't value it, why should anyone else, including Huffington; no matter what she's worth. I published a monthly art magazine that was distributed free in Colorado and we always paid freelance writers as much or more than they received from other publications. It is more than a professional courtesy, it is a professional duty. You get paid for your ads, you should pay your resources. Incidentally, we would not do "advertorials" or write good reviews just because a gallery advertised with us. That's called integrity. If we did, how could our readers trust our judgment?

I haven't gone on strike. I'm just not going to write for them any more. (Actually, I suggested we meet so that I could explain why. I didn't even get a response.) In the circumstances - professional writers being asked to write for nothing, then being asked to build their own pages (with archaic software) for nothing, while Ms Huffington signs a deal with the most heel-dragging name in the whole of online media and pockets millions - anyone who continues to write for them must really have a very low opinion of themselves.

which writers? It would be good to know -- this is scandalous! but I am sure other sites are operating this way (from what I hear from my journalist sister) and we would all be surprised were it public. Arianna -- shame on you!

Well, the greater question then becomes, is VAS hypocritical in it's weak little protest against Huffpo? Considering the fees they charge the individual artist, I would say yes. Besides, there's another way to look at this, which is the invaluable p.r. they were getting by being a Huffpo blogger.

When VAS gets it about reciprocity and appreciates the individual and emerging artist, then maybe some of the rest of us won't see them as a bunch of elitist whiny babies.

This is why I didn't write for them when invited. They signed up to write for free and they are now changing their minds? Weird...

I wrote for ArtScene/VAS for years and now write about art at the Huffington Post. ArtScene/VAS pays a writer all of $40 (tops) for reviews, $100 for a longer piece. There was no little feedback, if any, from the art public.My HuffPo articles have brought in a thousand comments on occasion, my article links to YouTube videos indicated that 5,000 people had watched the video directly from my link within a week. Additionally, ArtScene/VAS wanted my writing to only cover select advertisers and galleries who paid to be listed with their magazine. HuffPo allows m tow write about whatever I want. Okay ... freedom to write about what I like plus tens of thousands of readers and tons of feedback instead of forty bucks and crickets. Why is there even a debate?

Art writers are not misunderstood, they would have to actually be saying something for that. It is vacuous fluff, more about trying to build an image for sale, as there is no craft of substance involved. Its far more PR for galleries and artistes so one can get invited to cool parties. Right CK?

They gt what they are worth as it is just filler, look at the number of hits on this site and facebook and twit feeds, practically none except when wannabes interests are involved. The articles are for attitude, not truth, as purpose has to be involved for that. And god knows that is the enemy of contempt art, truth will out, and they seek to stiffle it to justify decadent lifestyles.

art collegia delenda

I can't help myself. I love Arianna. I'm glad she made that huge sum in the deal with AOL. I believe she will begin to pay her freelance bloggers and that everyone is just jumping for the gun too quickly. I will be looking for her response along with everyone else to the Manifesto/Statement that has been presented. If the freebee bloggers don't like HuffPo any longer, I'm sure they will move on. If Ms. Huffington does not want to pay her bloggers anything at all, welcome new freebee bloggers who want to develop some cred and the other seasoned writers who cut their teeth at HuffPo ... it's a big world out there. I hope everything is resolved amicably.

Moot point Who even reads Huffpo anymore?

About a month before I started blogging for Huffington Post Arts, I was given an assignment by a newspaper to review an exhibition. The pay was to be $75.00.

I wrote my review, submitted it, and got it back with a revised title -- very cutesy -- and instructions to "dumb it down." I had my name taken off the piece and it never ran.

When I write for the Huffington Post I write about the topics that I care about, and I write them the way I want to. I have been able to help artists gain exposure for their work, and I have been in contact with some amazing people that I wouldn't have met any other way.

So, speaking for myself, I am happy to blog without pay. I do understand that Bill Lasarow has a business, and that he pays for content. The HuffPost would be wise to identify some providers like him that could work on some kind of contractual basis.

John Seed

I'm 100% for people being paid for their written contributions in the arts, but I have to cry "FOUL!" here. Why on earth would Bill Lasarow or anyone associated with VAS agree to write for free in the first place? That's exactly what they agreed to last summer. Now that the HuffPo has been sold to AOL, this seems like this is a money grab by Lasarow and VAS writers who may be experiencing sour grapes. Blame yourselves, people.

With all the new AOL money, I hope Ms. Huffington will buy a new dress. That one is too ugly for a Vanity Fair party.

Uh, wow, a fashion critic now? What does that ahve to do with news, or god forbid, the creative arts? Art being at the beck and call of the fashion industry is what has turned a Great Dane into a purse dog.

Creative art is the highest common denominator, entertainment the lowest. Fine art satiating the need of the rich to feel powerful, in control and superior, and fashion their Imperial clothing, as is now Contempt "art'.

art collegia delenda est
Fine art collegs must be destroyed

@ John Seed: I like your Huffington Post articles about artists and their studios. I almost sent you a photo of mine, but it's not really a studio. It's just a messy desk filled with boring stuff and a bunch of cheap art supplies.

@ Donald Frazell: You wrote that "Art being at the beck and call of the fashion industry is what has turned a Great Dane into a purse dog."
As the saying goes, there's no sense trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, or a Louis Vuitton purse out of Murakami art--unless it makes you a whole lot of money.

Oh so true. but one must first convince a shrinking and wannabe public the sow ear IS a silk purse first. Marketing, the only creation of the artscene, second hand of course.

And the art schools there to serve that end.
art collegia delenda est

I'm not certain this is really about HuffPo and Artscene at all, nor is it about digital rights/royalties. As an arts/culture publicist, I've worked with many of the people above (you know who you are), and I can say there has been a consistent level of quality. I think what we're really seeing here is the opening salvo in a much larger battle of SEO vs. real journalism. Simply put these days: if it leads it reads.

Consistently medicocre and irrlevant. Art "criticism" never truly constructively criticizes anything. It is all PR for galleries and the industry, and have no doubt it is all about business. Art is now irrelevant as the art college degree mills sell MFAs to non talented kids. Who never have chance to develop into mature adults, just like the pop music industry, all controlled by the producers. As art is now by gallery owners and their patrons, the ignorant and self absorbed Eli Broads of the world.

Art is now nothing but badly done oversized postage stamps, investment and commodity trading. The product is irrelevant, and so easily defanged and controlled. It is at the service of those it panders to. It has no "dialogue' nor purpose, no independence nor power. Contempt art is dead. Time for creative art to return. the people want it, and turn away in droves from these souless games and therapy. It is not about Us, who We are, but them. Who think only in terms of I.

art collegia delenda est

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