UPDATE: Here's a statement from the Huffington Post sent to TheWrap by media relations SVP Mario Ruiz:
The Huffington Post Media Group has provided freelancers with as much clarity as possible about our intention to build a great team of full-time editors, writers, and reporters, and we regret that Patricia’s email misrepresents these efforts. In fact, we have been very forthcoming and transparent in our communication with freelancers through multiple calls and emails and have encouraged freelancers to apply for full-time positions. But we never asked freelancers to become unpaid bloggers — that is not how our group blog works. Our bloggers, many of whom are not professional writers, post on the HuffPost platform to expose their views to a wide audience, and to raise their profiles.
Chui also wrote a follow-up e-mail apologizing for and clarifying the note referenced in the post below:
I especially want to clarify that we have not been asking freelancers (i.e., any of you) to become unpaid bloggers. In no way did I mean to communicate that you were being asked to write for free, and I apologize for the misrepresentation.
It appears that AOL is taking its cues from its new editorial leader, Arianna Huffington, who famously built Huffington Post on the contributions of unpaid bloggers.
According to emails circulating among former and current AOL freelancers, AOL, like HuffPo, will come more and more to depend on unpaid bloggers for its content. After it shows a good many of its freelancers the door, of course.
An email sent by AOL editor Patricia Chui to freelancers for its sites Moviefone and Cinematical — and republished by former Cinematical writer Eric D. Snider — reads, in part:
"We will, indeed, be moving away from a freelancer model and toward one relying on full-time staffers. Sometime soon — this week, I believe — many of you will be receiving an email informing you that your services as a freelancer will no longer be required. You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid blogger system, and though I know that for many of you this will not be an option financially, I strongly encourage you to consider it if you'd like to continue writing for us, because we value all of your voices and input."
The missive gives scant comfort to those freelancers hoping to transition to a staff position — while the email says that the addition of such positions are being discussed, "I cannot at this point … tell you how many positions there are, or what the exact nature of those positions will be."
The email wraps up by encouraging the soon-to-be out of work stringers to continue working on their current assignments "unless you hear otherwise."
On Monday, an AOL freelancer related an almost identical situation for company's business and finance sections. According to the freelancer:
"Well, it's official: The Huffington Post Transition team has just eliminated all AOL freelancers and contractors (at least those in business and finance–everything under Peter Goodman). But we have been invited to continue contributing for free. We will be replaced either by a handful of people Goodman has in mind, or with young, new (read cheap) writers who have yet to be hired."
The freelancer sums up the transition process as "extremely unprofessional" and "schizophrenic."
All of this comes during a period of increasing discontent at AOL. Earlier this week, a team of editors who had defected from popular AOL property Endgadget decided to form a competing tech site on emerging new-media company SB Nation. Monday, Cinematical editor-in-chief/Moviefone editor Erik Davis resigned, citing the need "to move on to new challenges."
Earlier this month, tempers flared between Moviefone and TechCrunch, following a snarky review of the Jake Gyllenhaal film "Source Code." Following an email from a Moviefone staffer asking that tech blog TechCruch soften the review after a complaint from its studio, TechCrunch "consigliere" Paul Carr demanded that Moviefone editor Patricia Chiu "resign in shame" for defending the request.
Of course, with HuffPo’s AOL takeover, resignation night not be necessary before too long.