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An article three years ago on Portfolio.com about Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post said the following: "Huffington knows that the site's greatest asset is its stable of 1,800 bloggers. While none blog for money, she is aware that some sort of remuneration may be in order. To that end, Huffington is toying with a revenue-sharing model that would let her bloggers direct a portion of the site's ad revenue to a charity of their choice."
A lovely idea. Though writing for HuffPo is its own reward, contributors would know they were helping feed orphans and conquer deadly diseases. It's my understanding the idea went nowhere. But apparently HuffPo came up with an even better way to pay its bloggers: in flexibility. Mario Ruiz, the HuffPo spokesman in New York, has written Frank Sennett, editor of Time Out Chicago, to explain, "While we don’t pay contributors to our group blog, they write as often or as infrequently as they like, with no deadlines or quotas.” In short, bloggers can write for nothing for HuffPo at their convenience. As many of them have paying jobs and are blogging on the side, that's what they do, and if they're happy with that, God bless.
Ruiz was in touch with Sennett because Sennett was in the process of getting the goods on me. On April 8 I posted on my blog a short item about Kachingle — a new online micropayment system I'm excited about — and its encounter with HuffPo. Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos told me she wanted HuffPo's bloggers to Kachingle — which means they'd display Kachingle medallions the Kachingling public could click on to reward them for work well done. And HuffPo wasn't interested. Typaldos told me, "They said the last thing they'd want would be a mechanism that showed they were making money. Their bloggers might want some of that money, and their business model is that they would never pay them."
Sennett was the first reader to comment. "Wow, that's an incendiary second-hand quote," he wrote. "Anyone ever thought about calling HuffPo to confirm or deny—or is that too old-fashioned of a notion?"
He had a point. It didn't occur to me I'd written anything incendiary; even so, it was a call I might have made and didn't. Chastened, I called Typaldos and asked for more information. She explained that the problem with HuffPo — and with many of the other sites Kachingle's approached — was that they were uncomfortable with Kachingle's extreme transparency. With Kachingle, the public can see exactly who's paying how much to whom. It would have been up to HuffPo to pass those revenues from Kachingle along to its bloggers, who'd know who was getting more and who was getting less and what proportion of it anyone was getting at all. HuffPo didn't want any part of it.
I asked Typaldos who at HuffPo had told her that. She said it was a senior executive. She said she'd contact him and ask him to call me. So I waited. The weekend passed and the call didn't come.
Sennett found the passage of time intolerable. On his blog yesterday he returned to the subject of my "shocking statement," the "ethical obligation" that I had failed, my "cheap-shot narrative," and the "temptation to play unfair" that I'd surrendered to. Sennett had decided to take matters into his own hands. He got in touch with HuffPo's Mario Ruiz, and here's what Ruiz had to say:
“No one at HuffPost spoke with Cynthia Typaldos. And it’s absurd to claim that HuffPost somehow seeks to hide its profitability.” Ruiz then went on, "HuffPost has over 70 full-time writers, reporters, and editors who are paid. And while we don’t pay contributors to our group blog, they write as often or as infrequently as they like, with no deadlines or quotas."
Sennett concluded with a lecture. "Now, it gets interesting," he wrote. "If this were my story, I’d reach back out to Kachingle and see if they’ve got a response to the assertion that no one at HuffPo even spoke to Typaldos, let alone said something that foolish."
Yes, Kachingle had a response. Typaldos was annoyed and a little bewildered that Sennett, someone she'd never heard of, much less spoken to, was publicly challenging her honesty. She says she and Fred Dewey, who's the CEO of Kachingle, visited HuffPo's New York offices on January 12 at 4:30 PM and met for half an hour in the coffee room with Derek Murphy, the senior vice president for business development. On February 24 she and Murphy followed up the visit with an exchange of e-mails.
Typaldos has no quarrel with HuffPo. She knows Kachingle's not for everyone. She's puzzled about why Murphy didn't get in touch with me when she asked him to, or with her when she e-mailed him Tuesday — but maybe he's out of the country. She wonders why Ruiz would respond to Sennett so inaccurately — but maybe Ruiz simply failed to give Sennett's inquiry the time and attention it deserved. Typaldos respects HuffPo and admires its success. "We have a pretty radical business model — transparency," she says. "Which a lot of these people aren’t used to."
As for me, well, I have to wonder — not only why Murphy didn't return my call but why Ruiz didn't get back to me even though I e-mailed him and I called him twice and left my number. After all, he's not out of the country. I also have to wonder why Ruiz misinterpreted what I'd quoted Typaldos as saying on my blog. No one accused HuffPo of hiding its profitability. The subject was simply the very modest amounts of money that might be attracted by Kachingling bloggers and HuffPo's reluctance to let bloggers know what that trickle of dollars amounted to.
If I were the sort of fierce media monitor who jumps to conclusions I would quiver with rage at the telltale signs of concealment and deception on HuffPo's part and work myself into a lather. Instead, I'm confused, and primarily by Frank Sennett. If this episode has made anything clear it is his irreproachable ethical standards. They're way beyond mine. They're the highest. Yet he spread a story that as much as called Typaldos a liar. And he didn't call her. I can see myself pulling a stunt like that. But Sennett?
Sennett's lucky he doesn't read his own blog as carefully as he reads mine.