Newspaper Guild adds firepower to Huffington Post strike

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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A strike called by unpaid Huffington Post contributors received a major boost Wednesday with a call to arms released by the national Newspaper Guild.

The industry association called on contributors not currently on strike to cease contributions and asked members to help by “shining a light on the unprofessional and unethical practices of this company.”

The Newspaper Guild boasts 26,000 members and is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The CWA is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

The strike was called earlier this year by the membership of Visual Art Source, whose 50 members had previously contributed content for free to the site.

“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,” wrote the Guild.

“This is about supporting the quality and integrity of a vehicle for progressive expression, to actually help Huffington Post succeed, but on the right terms,” wrote the Guild. “We call on Arianna Huffington to demonstrate her commitment to the working class she so ardently champions in her writing.”

Mario Ruiz, The Huffington Post’s senior vice president for media relations, responded to the Guild’s statement by providing to The Daily Caller a previous e-mail response to Newspaper Guild President Bernie Lunzer.

Ruiz’s February 20 e-mail addressed a post on the Newspaper Guild’s website titled “Arianna got millions, all we got was a byline.” The post called on Arianna Huffington “to invest in quality journalism by sharing a portion of this fortune with the people who made her successful.” It included a template to e-mail Huffington.

Ruiz wrote to Lunzer, “We feel there’s a critical distinction between our editors and reporters and the people who contribute to our group blog.” Ruiz noted that The Huffington Post had a staff of 143 paid employees. On Thursday, Ruiz told TheDC that the site had hired 17 additional journalists since March 7.

A rebuttal written by Lunzer was published by Jim Romenesko on Poynter. Lunzer responded to Ruiz, “We continue to have great concerns about the HuffPost model and its long-term effect on journalism. I am not at all surprised that you see it as a simple matter.”

Bill Lasarow, the Publisher and Co-Editor of Visual Art Source, told TheDC that the involvement of the Newspaper Guild has brought the strike into a new stage. Lasarow said that his group would not have been best suited to maintain the strike or to conduct negotiations with the company.

“That’s where the Newspaper Guild comes in,” explained Lasarow. “They have an internal structure that’s designed for just this sort of thing. For us to undertake a full negotiation on our own would not be a wise course of action.”

Lasarow said that he had not been contacted by The Huffington Post’s management since announcing the strike, but declined to speculate on why.

The Newspaper Guild has similarly been rebuffed. The Wednesday statement by the Guild reads, “The Newspaper Guild has requested a meeting with company officials to discuss ways the Huffington Post might demonstrate its commitment to quality journalism. Thus far, the request has been ignored.”

Rebecca Rosen Lum, the chair of the Guild Freelance Unit, told TheDC that her division of the national association does not formally enter into negotiations with companies, but is nonetheless assisting with the strike.

“A freelance unit cannot play the role of a traditional union, sitting down to negotiate with a common employer,” Lum wrote in an e-mail to TheDC. “Rather, we promote the value of journalism and advocate for journalists in the marketplace, the legislature, and the public mind.”

Lum added, “We offer our unconditional support to the striking Huffington Post writers.” She also identified a common theme of commentary on the strike: that politically-progressive Arianna Huffington is exhibiting hypocrisy.

“[Huffington] has been a strong and articulate voice against conservative policies that have helped deal a death blow to the middle class,” wrote Lum, “So what gives?”

“If she argues that The Huffington Post gave writers a platform, we would argue that they drew considerable traffic to a previously unknown site,” wrote Lum. “She benefited enormously from their contributions.”

The strike is intended to achieve a system of payment for contributors and for the site to segregate paid promotional content. Huffington, who sold The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million this year, said at a conference on March 3, “Go ahead, go on strike” and speculated that nobody would notice.