As a more-than-one-time lowly freelance writer, I'm a strong believer in journalists getting paid for their work. But not in the way Jonathan Tasini and a group of Huffington Post bloggers -- who filed a $105 million class-action lawsuit Tuesday against AOL, Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post -- are going about it.
For starters, that Tasini picked $105 million -- or a third of what AOL paid to acquire the Huffington Post in February -- and waited until after the sale went through strikes me as sour grapes. A little Winklevoss-y, even.
There was plenty of opportunities in the five-plus years of the Huffington Post's existence -- which is also how long Tasini has been blogging for HuffPo -- for him to raise this issue on behalf of a group of bloggers or, more effectively, himself.
But the biggest problem with the Tasini’s argument comes down to how loosely one defines a "journalist” compared to a “blogger.”
While it may have been vague in the early going, Huffington has made the distinction between the two pretty clear. As she rebuffed a threatened strike by a group of bloggers last month, Huffington noted that the site employed 183 paid journalists, who are given “generous benefits,” assigned stories and asked to work overtime when things like the Arizona shootings or revolution in Egypt occur. The bloggers, she said, do not have those responsibilities. “It’s just absurd for me to compare the two.”
It is. (It appears Tasini is hoping no one in the Southern District Court of New York has actually reads the Huffington Post -- at least enough to recognize the qualitative difference.)
It also appears Tasini is hinging his suit on the idea that Arianna lured some of the unpaid bloggers to write for the Huffington Post with an “implied promise” of compensation if she ever sold it. (For what it’s worth, Business Insider’s Glynnis MacNicol, who was once one of those unpaid contributors, says she never got such an offer.)
Still, it’s worth wondering -- had Arianna sent, say, $500 or $1,000 post-sale checks to the most prolific unpaid HuffPo bloggers as a show of good-faith -- whether such a move would’ve saved her the grief -- and hefty legal fees -- it’s going to take to swat those like Tasini away.