Not just for laughs

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The story of a group of comedians gigging at the Comedy Store in the ’70s is being compared to the battle for fair compensation currently being fought by unpaid Huffington Post writers. After working for free for six years, the comics — including Jay Leno and David Letterman — were tired of watching the club’s owner rake in profits while they went home empty-handed. So they went on strike. And they won.

The situations are not parralel, but the similarities between them are significant: like the comedians, HuffPo‘s writers are offering something that people are used to getting for free. As a group they all contribute to the same organization, but like the comedians, they are not bound to that outlet by contracts and are not part of an organized labour group. They, like the comedians were, are being told that they are amateurs being compensated with exposure, even though their work is demonstrably earning money for their employer.

HuffPo writers don’t have the same opportunity to stand outside a business with picket signs, creating a photo op. However, though they are dispersed geographically, they can also take advantage of online platforms like Twitter to help spread their message. Their reach may be broader, but is their message strong enough to convince a company used to getting their work for free that what it’s doing is wrong?

Maybe the matter of ethics, whether HuffPo should pay up, should not be the centre of the’ public campaign for change in the wake of the site‘s $315 million deal with AOL. Rather, the question is how to make them pay. Ultimately, in the case of the comedians, their picketing drew enough negative attention to the Comedy Store that its owner had to accept their demands or risk losing business. Is there an opportunity for HuffPo‘s writers to shame Arianna in the same way? Are any giants of the media world willing to step forward, as Bob Hope did for the comedians, and say that HuffPo bloggers deserve compensation?

It’ll be a hard sell. But until they can show HuffPo that not paying them is going to hurt business, it seems unlikely these writers will, as the Comedy Store’s comedians did, get the last laugh in their fight for fair compensation.

Posted on April 6, 2011 at 11:59 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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