Why I wrote for the Huffington Post (and why I stopped)

By Emma Woolley

The Huffington Post is evil, right? It makes a lot of money from content it doesn’t pay for. It exploits writers and undermines their right to earn livings. It contributes to the overall devaluation of writing and especially web writing. I knew all of this and I still wrote for the Huffington Post.

Most of you probably want to know why. Well, I bought what the Huffington Post was selling: a platform.

While I’ve always written, I never thought I’d be this kind of writer. (By “this kind of writer” I mean one who contributes the occasional bit of service journalism.) I’d always wanted to be a fiction or personal essay writer, which often means doing an awful lot of work before one receives minimal (if any) payment. The more I thought about pursuing that kind of a career, the more hopeless it felt. I started focusing on blogging, something that came naturally to me, and it was always for free. Writing never seemed like a particularly lucrative gig.

As my interests grew, I wanted to write about social and political issues, feminism, pop culture, and whatever else inspired me. I wanted people to read it. It was difficult to figure out how to make that happen. As a young, fairly inexperienced writer, it seldom occurred to me to pitch these ideas to papers or magazines. (Plus whenever I did, I was usually rejected.) Given the choice between ranting for free on my blog and having maybe 100 people read it, and contributing to the Huffington Post blog also for free where my work might be read by thousands of people, doing the latter seemed like a good decision.

So I wrote back to one of the blog editors at the Huffington Post and agreed to start contributing. The writing arrangement is simple and non-exclusive. Writers keep the rights to their work and can contribute as often as they wish. (I suppose that without offering payment, the Huffington Post can’t enforce many rules.) One logs into a blogging system, writes and formats the piece, and then sends it into an editing queue. Once copy-edited by a blog editor, the post goes live.

I contributed my first post in June. I’m pretty sure only my Twitter followers read it. My second post, in which I discussed Jack Layton’s death, landed on the Huffington Post homepage for a while, surely explains the four comments it received. I felt good about the posts and the prominence they gave me. I’ll never be certain how many people read them, but the posts certainly affected my Google ranking. (If you searched my name prior to my first post, the first results were my Twitter feed and website. Now, the first results link to my work and profile on the Huffington Post. I haven’t decided if this is a good or bad thing.)

Despite the ease of the writing process and the exposure I received, those two posts are the only I’ve contributed in six months. I credit this to my now-flourishing part-time freelancing—the paid kind. And the more I get paid for writing, the less appealing it is to not get paid for writing. At the end of the day, and with so little time, money is worth more than expression and exposure. So with so little incentive, I’ve started to ignore the Huffington Post.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write there again. Most of the paid writing I do doesn’t always include subjects I’m most interested in, so there’s a chance I’ll want to get something out and it may end up there. Ultimately that’s what the Huffington Post platform is to me: a place to put things that don’t belong elsewhere.

Emma Woolley is a web editor and writer living in Toronto. You can find her on Twitter (@emmamwoolley).

Posted on November 15, 2011 at 10:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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