The high price of moral principles: why you will not see me at The Huffington Post

Up on my hobbyhorse again!

Up on my hobbyhorse again!

UPDATED ALREADY!  See what happened below.

I was contacted by an editor at The Huffington Post this week about re-publishing the blog post I published after last week’s primary elections, “A revolution happened last night and no one noticed,” in which I commented on the ignoring or merely grudging acknowledgement of Hillary Clinton’s pathbreaking, historic achievements by journalists and commentators covering the 2016 election.  No woman of either major American political party has ever led in the primary delegate race or been selected as its running mate, and she’s totally owning states that overwhelmingly voted for her opponent in 2008, Barack Obama.  Considering the awesome weight of history against which Clinton is working, you’d think this would be the political story of the year–but no, it’s all Donald Drumpf, all the time, with his ground-baloney complexion and his Cheez-Wiz coiffure.

My regular readers probably don’t realize this, but that post brought this blog record traffic late last week and over the weekend, when someone posted it to some Facebook page somewhere.  (It was surprisingly popular in Great Britain Saturday morning Mountain time, for some reason–my peak traffic was at 3 a.m.!)  So far, it’s had nearly 38,000 page views, which is pretty huge for a blog that these days is lucky to get 1,000 clicks from 700-850 visitors a day.  Saturday, March 18 was my highest-traffic day ever in eight years, with 17,603 page views and 16,465 unique visitors.

But other than the gratification that my bon mots are being read and (perhaps) appreciated by more people around the world, I don’t make a dime here.  It doesn’t matter to me financially if three people read a blog post, or 300,000.  I’m even paying to host this blog and own the domain  Yes, I pay for the privilege of doing all of this extra labor of maintaining a blog and writing several posts a week for it.  For the wissenschaft, I guess:  for knowledge; pro bono, for the greater good.  For the privilege of sharing what I’ve learned with you all, who are all volunteer readers so far as I know.  (Yes, my domain name is a .com, but that’s because it was and still is the most popular domain suffix in the U.S., not because I was ever inclined to try to monetize my blog.)

cowgirlfenceYonder comes a for-profit media company to ask if they can republish a blog post.  Wouldn’t that generate more interest in my blog, and perhaps my scholarship?  Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to raise her internet profile even higher?  Here’s how I think of this as someone who is happy to give away her pearls of wisdom for free, but who also is concerned about the erosion of journalism as a career and good writing as a way to make a middle-class living.  I’m someone who is in solidarity with other workers, so I asked what The Huffington Post would pay me for the privilege of republishing a blog post I self-published on an ad-free blog I own.  Why should I provide free content when they’re generating ad revenue?  Writing for free for a for-profit company is breaking solidarity with writers who don’t have day jobs.

I get offers to put ads on my website all of the time.  I’ve always refused, because 1) I don’t want anything other than my sense of morality and professional propriety to dictate what I write about, and 2) ads gum and garbage up the time it takes for a page to load.  Finally, 3) I teach at a public university.  I already think of at least half of my labor there as volunteer, because I’m paid so poorly, but I still think that historians have an obligation to communicate with a wider public, and to share how historical thinking can be used productively in our lives as engaged citizens.

cowgirlgunsign1I haven’t heard back from the editor at Huffington Post yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.  So, yeah:  I’m a sucker.  I’m a rube!  And my publisher will kill me, but at this point in my life, I can afford to keep my highminded moral principles.  Readers here will never have to wonder if I’m reviewing a book, or writing on a subject because an advertiser has asked me to, or because someone has given me something.  (I get emails all the time from people asking me if I want to review their books; I just delete them because 1) they’re usually not in my field, 2) I decide which books I want to talk about, and 3) I’m already awash in unrequested books, so please stop sending them.  Just stop!  All of you.  (*I* also decide what books I want to assign to my students on my own, so knock it off.)  fearless since 2008.  

UPDATE, three minutes after publication:  I received an answer from the Huffington Post editor who asked to re-publish my blog post:  “Thanks so much for reaching out, Ann.  We don’t pay bloggers, but many of our contributors find value in our unique platform and reach. If this makes re-posting with us impossible, we completely understand.”

I’ve got the unique platform already.  Here’s what I will write in reply:  “As I suspected!  But I can’t donate my labor to a for-profit company.  It’s bad business for writers everywhere who unlike me don’t have day jobs.”

It’s a snow day here, friends; if you’re also getting walloped with a spring storm, hunker down and stay safe.

36 thoughts on “The high price of moral principles: why you will not see me at The Huffington Post

  1. Well, you didn’t need their unique platform to get 38,000 page views! (I posted your piece on fb, but I don’t think that’s what went viral.)

    The article in the Chronicle, or Sunday Times, on Esther when your book comes out? That maybe…

    Thanks for being ad free and standing up for principles.


    • Thanks, Susan–you MAY have been the reason that post went viral (or virulent, anyway–for a small, ad-free dork blog like this one.) I think it got picked up by some of the pro-Clinton twitter accounts and FB pages.

      (I’m still not on Facebook, so I don’t know exactly what happened there, and they’re so controlling they won’t even let me peek. I should use my husband’s computer to check it out, since he’s there.)


  2. Good for you!

    And, I have SO many thoughts about this, mostly because in 9 years of blogging, I have had similar experiences. My blog email account is mostly not usable to me because it’s inundated with book review requests and other commercial propositions (“I have a great idea for a blog post for you! Here, promote my product for free!”).

    There was also a time when I would accept offers to guest blog or have my content published elsewhere, without pay, at other sites, mostly because I was flattered and could see the appeal of writing for a broader audience – but I have come to realize that it is unfair. And, more often than not, the guest blogging/re-publishing resulted in more headaches than it was worth. For instance, one site started pressuring guest bloggers to produce content on a regular basis, sending daily group emails like, “Hey folks, we really need someone to post today, okay?” and then the site folded. Another site invited me to produce content from my queer feminist perspective and then refused to appropriately moderate comments after my posts were barraged by abusive bigots – and that site folded. The editor of another site started talking about a book deal for the site’s content without consulting/including the guest bloggers, and then that site folded (without a book deal). All of these experiences were unpaid.

    TL;DR version: This topic raises so many troubling legal and ethical issues. I would consider guest blogging, very carefully on a case by case basis, but I think all of these types of issues really need to be thought out.


    • Thanks, g2–it sounds like you know whereof I write! (Do you have a name or nickname you’d prefer to be known by? Let us know.)

      I have guest-blogged on other ad-free, nonprofit blogs, and I will do so again for the early Canadian history blog Canadiana later this spring. But that’s the key: like they’re nonprofit & don’t run ads. Huffington Post has reporters and pays some writers–why not all of us?


      • Ha ha 🙂 Your blog posts have been on point lately! (I mean, they always are, but loved the Clinton one especially). Anyway, yes – I would also write for non-profit ad-free sites, but if a site is commercial, makes money off the content, and/or runs ads, they absolutely should pay writers.


  3. I don’t know about unique platform, but as far as Huff-Po “reach” goes, I mean, who cares? An artificial metric and an agency buzzword to boot. Give ’em a little rope-a-dope, Historiann; lean back and waggle along the ropes just beyond their impactful platformed posts, and the limits of “reach” become evident pretty quickly. Those Moocs whose names we can barely remember anymore had reach, which is not the same as teach. Facebook has reach, but you just get lost in the blither.


  4. First, WICKED awesome attitude & blog.

    Second, in healthcare there’s a slutty habit of asking *suffering* people to contribute content to for-pay events, free. “Suffering people,” in healthcare, are known as patients, and their cousins are reformers – people like the wonderful Clear Health Costs who subsist on insights, not foundation funding or salaries. It’s astounding how many might-as-well-be-drunk people stumble around looking for ANYONE who will contribute content. Free. Because “we’d be so honored” if you’d give us sh!t free for us to sell.

    I’ve been a health activist for ~7 years now, starting from nothing, and eventually building a career as a public speaker. (I got attention because of my observations on how crappy health IT is, but nobody would PAY me to consult about that – consultants would pump my brain for free to sell the REPORT to others – sound familiar? So I had to demonstrate value by being a good public speaker, and THEN weave in my opinions on health IT etc etc.l

    You may or may not be interested in what I eventually posted – “Ratty boxers.” Yes, I blogged about my underpants. It’s become a thing. #RattyBoxers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your insights from another industry, epatientdave–I had no idea! I’m glad you found a way to put your expertise to work for you. It really stinks that the neediest people on these programs are getting the least, or are even expected to pay their own way. My goodness.


      • You really should be in the New England you’ve written about, so it would be easier to visit. We have so much to discuss.


  5. OH. MY. GAWD. I. LOVE. YOU.

    I’m part of the #rattyboxers crew my buddy Dave just mentioned, and if it were not for a total accident of procrastination (long story, not for here), I would not be able to donate the metric sh*t ton of time I do, uncompensated, in service of shifting healthcare from a “we sell widgets called patients” model to a “our customers are people sometimes called patients” paradigm. Given that my dad was an historian by avocation and occasionally trade, finding Historiann (blame Dave) feels like my bonus win of the week.

    LOVE YOU, baby.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Copied from a comment left in the post below by mistake:

    Thank you. Your stance is refreshing and rare.

    I’m in the visual arts and am constantly reminding people that HuffPo bloggers are unpaid and unvetted. Anyone can and does post on the site, so an art review there is not meaningful or impressive (except as a marketing tool). On a resume, it’s about as exciting as advertorial in magazines.


  7. The only time that I wrote something for the HuffPo was to promote one of my pop culture and history books. Otherwise, you are more than right that your own blog will do just fine. Speaking of which, I saw that blogpost shared on my FB feed by another friend-of-a-friend. Definitely getting out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You British historians must be my connection! That’s funny–I’d love to see the chart of all the connections that have shared that post. Thanks, Janice!


  8. As a writer, journalist, artist, advocate for healthcare reform and human rights in general (with Colorado roots and cowgirl relatives), and supporter of the #RattyBoxers movement, I am very nearly at a loss for superlatives in reaction to your taking a stand against exploitation of the hardworking people who safeguard and advance our culture and the world of ideas by shining a well-sourced/researched light on the things that are happening, starting to happen, might happen, or are merely a gleam in someone’s eye, maybe even that of the writer! Thanks for a job well-done. P.S. It’s not in the same league as your post, but you might enjoy this recent tweet

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right on, FrancieGrace. How will we ever see change–in our politics, or in the devaluation of our labor–if we don’t stand up and talk about what’s plainly before our eyes?

      Thanks for your comment. On the (in)visibility of women in the halls of power–I wrote about this eight years ago, amidst the 2008 election freakout on both the left and the right over gender and power in the candidacies of Clinton and Sarah Palin. One of our big problems is that the tiny number of women who have run for president or vice-president puts ridiculous expectations on them. We need more women so that they don’t each have to carry the burden of being The One Woman (who can never, of course, represent all of womankind, so why do we expect them to instead of evaluating them as individuals?)

      Liked by 2 people

      • You are so right. Speaking from observation and personal experience, “The Woman” is a heavy load to carry for anyone in any male-dominated landscape, and having a heavier-than-thou burden of proof cannot possibly be a plus for the already white-hot scrutiny a credible presidential candidate must face.

        Since around 1984, my stomach has just churned every time I had to face the spectacle of a stage filled solely with eight or more male presidential candidates (rarely any non-whites, either), which is to say, campaign after campaign after campaign, as if there were no women in this country. It’s got to stop and the only way it will is when folks ask inconvenient questions every time they need to be asked.

        Looking past the current campaign, which has many complicated substantive threads unrelated to this topic, and ahead to the future, I love Amy Klobuchar. We’ll see what happens.


  9. So long as you continue to school my work-in-progress feminism, and occasionally write something that produces so much cognitive dissonance that I scream “HOW CAN SOMEONE SO SMART THINK THAT!” at my computer you are stuck with me as a loyal reader. Huffpo, not so much. . .


  10. Thanks for standing on principle! Next step – one we all have to take – is to stop producing our academic work for for-profit publishers to whom we give it for free, and who then charge our own institutions exorbitant prices to buy it back. Open access policies instituted by grant funders are changing that for STEM, but we humanists, rarely funded by grants, need to be more active. I turned down an offer to co-edit a series at [prestigious Dutch publisher whose books are very expensive] because I didn’t want to lend my name and reputation to that system. In short: it goes a lot deeper than for-profit websites like HuffPo, even if the scholarly versions offer things like peer review that are valuable and need to be preserved somehow.


    • You are so right, Brian. As an American historian, I am pretty insulated from this, although I probably don’t know the extent to which I’ve collaborated with for-profit publishers before. (I will investigate, since I’ve taken such a loud public stand here! But I will say that it seems like European historians run up against this much more than Americanists, even early Americanists like me.)


    • So much of the internet has been ruined by the advertising–the pop up ads were big 4 years ago or so, and have since been replaced by the even more irritating autoplay/noisy pages with flash animation. I can’t stand to click on Salon, or Talking Points Memo, or most newspaper websites anymore because they’re all garbaged-up with noisy irritations. Some progress!

      The totally UNsurprising thing is that no one aside from Pr0n-merchants and merchant merchants have figured out how to make money on the interwebz. Aside from pr0n, it’s clear that people are wililng to pay for things, but only if they can get it delivered and hold that thing in their hand. Enticing people to pay for digitally-published writing still isn’t working very well.


  11. Love ya, H’Ann!

    P.S. Being on Facebook wouldn’t help–there’s absolutely no way of tracking whose post/repost your hits are coming from. Frustratingly black-box.


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