The Newspaper Guild has issued a call for a strike to writers who submit free articles to The Huffington Post following the sale of that website to AOL for $315 million. The money will go to the website's founder, Arianna, and some of its private investors.
The guild says the site's use of so called "citizen journalists" who often cover events for free is exploitative.
"Since 2007 and 2008, it's been a bloodbath out there," Lauri Lebo, an organizer for the guild, said about layoffs of journalists from newspapers and magazines. Laid off journalists, in order to keep themselves in the running for new jobs, often work for websites like the Huffington Post for free.
"People write for free with the idea that they can get mass exposure," said Lebo. "The success of the Huffington Post is built on unpaid labor. They're exploiting the journalists who still passionately believe in journalism and believe their exposure in the Huffington Post would move them forward."
The union says it was concerned about the problem for quite a while and that the matter took on greater urgency after the website's sale.
Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America, the union to which the guild belongs, said: "It's not a boycott. The Newspaper Guild is asking writers that contribute to the Huffington Post not to do so at this time. That doesn't include organizations or people from organizations who are advocating for a particular cause." She explained that the union wants the website to develop a pay policy for the writers and bloggers it calls "citizen journalists."
Mario Ruiz, a spokesperson for the Huffington Post, said the website does pay some of its journalists. He said that includes 160 full-time editors and reporters who make up the website's newsroom.
The union's policy of not asking representatives of organizations to refrain from writing for the website leaves room for Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and Leo Gerard, presient of the Steelworkers, to continue the columns they write for the website. Spokespeople for both union leaders say they have not decided whether they will stop their columns.