Dear George, Danny & Sean:
Please forgive the intrusion of a public letter but in spite of the fact that two of you have actually written blogs for the Huffington Post (and one of you was apparently misquoted) it is quite possible that you are three of the last Hollywood celebrities--progressive ones at least--who haven’t succumbed to the charms of Arianna Huffington. And although I know none of you personally, it is with the Kevin Bacon 'six degrees of separation' theory that I trust this request will find its' way to each of you.
As most everyone knows, each of you have used your public celebrity to highlight social justice issues and have gotten your hands dirty more than once bringing attention to catastrophes around the globe. And while this situation doesn’t compare to the magnitude of Darfur or Haiti, the issue of unions and fair compensation certainly has national and global implications.
Obivously you are all aware that Arianna just sold the Huffington Post to AOL for a whopping $315 million. Pretty amazing. Whoever would have thought that an on-line progressive leaning publication--or at least that’s how it started--would go for that much? It was really exciting news—especially for the 9,000 some writers and bloggers who helped build the Huffington so that it would be worth several million to investors.
But here’s where it gets sticky. You see, instead of sharing some of the profits (or offering the contributors a happy meal), Ms. Huffington simply smiled and popped a bottle of champagne without toasting thousands of unpaid writers who made it all possible.
Some of the writers (about 1270 at last count) started a Facebook campaign called “Hey Arianna Can You Spare a Dime?” and several weeks later the 26,000-member Newspaper Guild called for all unpaid writers at The Huffington Post to go on strike.
In spite of how enthusiastically Ms. Huffington applauded the massive protests in Egypt and Wisconsin recently, when she was asked late last week about Huffpo contributors, she shrugged it off and said that blogging on the Huffington Post is equivalent to going on Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart to promote their ideas. And then she huffed: “The idea of going on strike when no one really notices…“go ahead, go on strike” (which sounds hauntingly like “let them eat cake” does it not)?
And while it is true that many Huffpo contributors are celebrities or people promoting themselves, there are a number of journalists like unpaid Huffington contributor, Mayhill Fowler who broke two of the biggest campaign stories of the 2008 election and who sold her car in order to afford being able to follow the candidates. And even though her writing was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize by the Huffington Post, she has never been a guest on Rachel Maddow. Certainly being nominated for a Pulitzer means that a publisher believes the writing is of superior quality and so it is confusing that Ms. Fowler was worthy of a Pulitzer but not good enough to be compensated?
And recently when some of the Huffington bloggers--who also have never come close to being on Rachel Maddow--requested the statistics to determine just how advantageous it is blogging for free, they were told that Huffington “does not keep all the stats regarding page views.” But if it doesn't keep track then how can they boast having "millions of readers"? And, if they can't account for all those readers then why would AOL deem the site was worth 315 million dollars?
Anyway, here’s where you three come in. It is clear that Ms. Huffington cares little about the 9,000 bloggers who helped build the Huffington into a goldmine or what the Newspaper Guild has to say. Perhaps it is because they are not celebrities that she doesn’t take them seriously and without notoriety—or a public platform—they cannot hold her accountable. Which is fascinating when you consider that in her New York Times best selling book “Pigs At The Trough”, Huffington skewers corporate executives for this exact same attitude towards middle class workers--whom she professes to care about deeply.
So, as a nobody freelance writer/filmmaker who has little celebrity or cache, I am simply asking if any (or all of you) would be willing to give Arianna a call or perhaps bring attention to the significance of this issue by writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times, the LA Times or better yet, volunteer to moderate a public debate.
Since Ms. Huffington cares very much about celebrity opinion and seems to cherish a reputation of being an advocate ‘for the people’, a word from any one of you might convince Ms. Huffington to take the Newspaper Guild strike seriously. At the very least perhaps she will question the differences (and similarities) between the abhorrent behavior of the greedy CEO’s she berates in her book and her dismissive treatment of freelance writers who are simply requesting fair compensation.
And guys, even though I’m a big fan of your film work, what I most appreciate (about each one of you) is that you walk it, like you talk it.
Molly Secours is a Nashville based writer/filmmaker who willingly volunteered to write a free blog for Huffington but is in solidarity with writers and journalists around the world who often risk their lives, health and families uncovering the news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.mollysecours.com or http://twitter.com/#!/mollmaud