On the AOL-HuffPo Merger: I’m With Harlan Ellison. Pay the Writer.

Longtime readers, friends and family know my AOL saga. After devoting a few years of my life to building up and providing fresh content to several of their entertainment sites, they unceremoniously “let me go” last year.

Harlan Ellison / Wired.com

Needless to say, I was steamed, partly because I had no warning and partly because I couldn’t figure out the whys and wherefores.

However, I just got my 1099 from them a couple weeks ago, and all I can think is that after paying me $30K for the first part of the year, I was simply too expensive for them to keep on (although I’ve heard the Patch editors are paid fairly well, so who knows? It’s all a mystery).

This was shortly after my b5media fiasco where they let all of their writers go by simply shutting us out of our blogs and sending us a goodbye email so they could re-organize. Again, after years of helping them build up their blogs and networks and readership. Just a very bad way for them to handle it.

For that matter, some — I stress, SOME, not all — of the editors I worked with at AOL could use a few lessons in building good relationships with their writers, too. Who knows, maybe we could have been friends if we’d met under different circumstances. But the work experience? Not pleasant. I like to believe they weren’t born that way; they were molded into unfeeling drones by AOL.

But I digress… I decided that rather than be at the mercy of some corporate entity for the rest of my life, I’d start building up my own brand and services, including my online classes and syndicated movie and TV columns.

It’s a lot of work, and there’s no one else to help shoulder the load, but things are going well, I’m independent, and I don’t have to sell my soul or work with annoying people to pay the mortgage. And I just didn’t like the person I was becoming while writing for AOL. I was becoming like those editors I mentioned above, and I’m not that girl. Nothing about it was right.

One thing I’ve learned, though, in the 30 years I’ve been at this writing business, is you can never rest on your laurels. You have to continually get yourself out there, keep pushing, and never let up on the marketing and networking.

So after my AOL experience, I decided to help build my brand by writing here and there for Huffington Post. Nothing major, but I figured I’d write a nice narrative a few times a month and evangelize my own sites and services. So I wrote a few things, got some traffic coming back to my sites, and gained a few new readers and syndicated review subscribers. I was fine with the Huffington Post being a pawn in my brand-building game.

Then I heard that AOL was buying Huffington Post, and all I could think was, “Quit following me around the Web, AOL! Leave me alone!” Will I continue to post things on Huffington Post? Probably not, because I want nothing to do with AOL in any way, shape or form. I’ve got other ways to continue building my business. I really don’t need them.

All of this reminded me of the video below by Harlan Ellison, who talks about how Warner Bros. wanted to use his ‘Babylon 5’ interview on a DVD — for free. Look, the people who ask writers to write for free aren’t doing THEIR job for free. Why should we? And I just won’t do it anymore, unless it’s directly related to my own marketing efforts and brand building.

You may still see me around the Web here and there, doing work that isn’t directly sending me a paycheck, but you can bet there will be a pay-off one way or another, whether it’s more students for my online classes or more subscribers to my family columns.

As writers, we need to think carefully about the work we do and figure out whether we’re helping someone else build THEIR site up (only to be dumped sooner or later), or whether we’re actively in charge of our own destiny, creating a business we can be proud of that doesn’t turn us into monsters.

What do you think about the HuffPo/AOL merger? Have you been burned by either company? Do you write for free if it doesn’t directly benefit you?

Hear what Harlan Ellison has to say about it (warning: some profanity).


Sarah Henry, Bay Area Bites, Will Write For Food, Payment Preferable

Nate Silver, The New York Times, HuffPo and the Economics of Blogging

Rachel Kaufman, MediaBistro, The First HuffPo/AOL Fallout

Tim Ruttan, L.A. Times

Nicholas Carlson, Business Insider, The AOL Way

Kim Voynar, Movie City News


  1. Sheryl Avatar

    It’s really a shame that talented writers, who put a lot of effort and know-how into their work, are expected to “give it away.” And I”m sorry for your unhappy and unfortunate experience at AOL. And I agree that writers should not be expected to write for nothing, especially when there are entities who don’t pay and darn well could. But there ARE times (guilty as charged) when it is in our best interest to write for nothing…then, and only then, will I do it.

  2. […] worked in the corporate world in many years, I recently had my own bout with this (read more about my experience with AOL last year), so I totally get this movie, even in my own small way. You pour your heart and soul […]

  3. Steph Auteri Avatar

    I used to write for Lemondrop, and I loooved my editor there. Then there was a restructuring (the first of many), and I decided it wasn’t worth my while to continue writing for them. I just couldn’t get a feel for where they were headed. Sigh.

    As for writing for free (or almost-free), I’ve done it. To build up my portfolio (when I was just starting out), to gain visibility, to open doors… Eventually, though, I had to admit to myself that the low-paying gigs were holding me back instead of moving me forward.

    Though there are some mags I’d *totally* take the low rate for if it meant seeing my name in their pages, at least once. 😉

  4. Jennifer Margulis Avatar

    Good for you to decide NOT to be at the mercy of a corporation but to build your own brand. I couldn’t agree more, sister. Your story is so frustrating but inspiring. Keep fighting the good fight.

  5. […] Boursaw on September 25, 2012 · 0 comments When I was an editor over at TV Squad – pre HuffPo bloodletting — I wrote a column called Jane After Dark, where I ruminated on whatever show I was watching […]

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