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The Newspaper Guild called on writers to boycott writing for The Huffington Post for free. (Credit: Newspaper Guild)

The Newspaper Guild got a lot of attention this week when it joined with Visual Art Source, an art news site with 50 members, in calling for a boycott on writing for The Huffington Post for free.

In a March 16 article on its website, the Newspaper Guild, which boasts 26,000 members, announced its backing of Visual Art Source and asked for its members to “join us in shining a light on the unprofessional and unethical practices of this company.”

Last month, the Guild started a petition movement asking Arianna Huffington to “invest in quality journalism by sharing a portion of this fortune with the people who made her successful.”  The guild also started a Facebook page, “Hey Arianna, Can You Spare a Dime?” to get out the message.  The page had roughly 850 fans Feb. 28, and has slightly more than 1,000 as of March 19 at 8:30 PM EST.

The Newspaper Guild “is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America,” which is in turn “affiliated with the AFL-CIO,” The Daily Caller noted.

The boycott comes as a result of The Huffington Post’s “refusal to compensate its thousands of writers in the wake of its $315 million merger with AOL.”  The Newspaper Guild stated on its website that it has asked –unsuccessfully — to meet with Huffington Post to talk about its stance.

“Just as we would ask writers to stand fast and not cross a physical picket line, we ask that they honor this electronic picket line,” the Guild wrote.

Bill Lasarow, publisher and co-editor of Visual Art Source, announced in early March that Visual Art Source would not write for Huffington Post until “two demands are met.”

“First, a pay schedule must be proposed and steps initiated to implement it for all contributing writers and bloggers. Second, paid promotional material must no longer be posted alongside editorial content; a press release or exhibition catalogue essay is fundamentally different from editorial content and must be either segregated and indicated as such, or not published at all. ”

Lasarow wrote that he is “calling upon all others now contributing free content, particularly original content to the Huffington Post” to strike as well.

“It is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing. It is unethical to cannibalize the investment of other organizations who bear the cost of compensation and other overhead without payment for the usage of their content. 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.”

According to Lasarow, The Huffington Post isn’t breaking any laws, but it is “unethical and oh so very hypocritical.”

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Lasarow has a Huffington Post author page and appears to have last posted Feb. 8.

Arrianna Huffington herself reportedly commented at a  March 3 conference “Go ahead, go on strike,” according to the Daily Caller.  The remarks were in response to Visual Art Source’s original early March strike announcement, the Wrap reported, noting that Huffington “argued that blogging on the Huffington Post is equivalent to going on Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart or the ‘Today’ show to promote their ideas.”

Huffington Post media relations VP Mario Ruiz responded in a March 18 blog to the call for a strike.  According to Ruiz, the site “does stand squarely behind efforts to ensure that media professionals receive fair compensation. It’s why we employ a newsroom of 160 full-time editors and reporters, 17 of whom we’ve hired since last Monday.”

Ruiz repeated his statement from February when The Huffington Post was criticized for not paying its bloggers.  As Ruiz explains, Huffington Post bloggers aren’t considered the same as Huffington Post staff –they don’t have a regular contributing schedule, which is why they don’t get paid.  But, they do get a high-profile place to put their posts.

And, he noted of the bloggers, “most of whom are not professional writers but come from all walks of life, from officeholders, students, and professionals to professors, entertainers, activists and heads of nonprofits.”

Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici checked out Ruiz’s statement about professional writers at the Huffington Post and determined that it is “a tad disingenuous.”

Bercovici explained that he checked out the biographies of “the last 100 Huffpo bloggers to post entries” to see if they were professional writers.  His findings:

“It’s true that fewer than 25 of the 100 bloggers I surveyed identify themselves primarily as currently-working journalists. But that number swells dramatically if you count up all the screenwriters, songwriters, documentary producers and humorists. At least half of the bloggers are published book authors.”

“If your definition of ‘professional writer’ is someone who earns enough money from writing to live on, then it’s probably true that most Huffpo bloggers aren’t professional writers,” Bercovici concluded. But, he wrote that  “it’s clear” that those who aren’t “professional writers,” want to be.

In 2009, StinkyJournalism revealed that some citizen journalists blogging for free on for-profit sites like the Huffington Post given IRS rules could be subject to paying a gift tax. Read that report here.

StinkyJournalism has written to Visual Art Source, the Newspaper Guild and Communications Workers of America and will update with any response.

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