The Huffington Post is firing back at Mayhill Fowler, one of the site's many unpaid bloggers, who scored a major political scoop during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Huffington Post spokesman Mario Ruiz took issue with Fowler's decision Monday to publish private emails between her and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington and editor Roy Sekoff. He also objected to the premise of a post on her personal site that got attention in media circles: "Why I left the Huffington Post."
"Mayhill Fowler says that she is 'resigning' from the Huffington Post," Ruiz wrote in a statement to The Upshot. "How do you resign from a job you never had?"
But Fowler wanted a paid job. And that's where she and the site's top editors disagreed. Fowler argued that while she understands the Huffington Post doesn't pay thousands of bloggers opining on the site, she should be paid for her original reporting (which, in her opinion, is as good as a couple of the site's top paid reporters, Sam Stein and Ryan Grim).
"Why do they get money, and I do not?" Fowler asked. "I don't recall either of them writing the story about Barack Obama waxing large on 'clinging to guns and religion,' which seems more and more as time goes by to be the one big story out of the last presidential election to live on. Or at least it is the one that journalists and pundits are quoting regularly now."
Fowler's story was significant not only because it captured Obama's impolitic comments, but also because it showed how a citizen journalist could break news out from a closed-door fundraiser that the national media completely missed. (She also had her tape recorder running later in the campaign as Bill Clinton trashed Vanity Fair writer Todd Purdum — a juicy scoop, at least among Washington's political class).
After pointing out the Obama scoop, Fowler went on to publish emails with Huffington and Sekoff, where she explained why she believes she should now be paid. (Huffington Post has attracted criticism over the years for not paying bloggers; the counterargument is that the popular news and opinion site offers a large platform for writers and can drive traffic to their own sites.)
"I've paid my dues in the citizen journalism department; I'm a journalist now," Fowler told Sekoff. She also published some pitches she made to Huffington Post over the past year, including ideas to cover Afghanistan and the State Department.
Ruiz counters that the Huffington Post gets many freelance pitches every day that it doesn't accept and continues to pay over 100 staffers to run the site.
You can read Fowler's full post here. Here is the full response from Huffington Post:
Mayhill Fowler says that she is "resigning" from the Huffington Post. How do you resign from a job you never had? Mayhill was one of over 15,000 citizen journalists who took part in our OffTheBus project's coverage of the 2008 race. In the process, she scored one of the biggest scoops of the campaign, recording and reporting on Sen. Obama's comments about "bitter voters." In recognition of the work she'd done, HuffPost paid Mayhill's not-insubstantial expenses for the rest of the 2008 campaign.
When OffTheBus ended, HuffPost invited Mayhill to continue blogging on our site whenever she wanted — which she's done, posting 25 blog posts over the ensuing 22 months (including posting excerpts from her book). In that time, she also pitched us a few ideas for far-flung stories she'd hoped to cover (these included an extended tour in Afghanistan and a cross-country move to Washington, DC). We passed on these pitches — far from an unusual occurrence, as we get dozens of story pitches a day.
Now she is trying to turn that rejection into something that exemplifies a fault line between new media practices and traditional media practices. Hardly. HuffPost pays close to a hundred staff editors, reporters, and writers — and helps fund the work of many others through the HuffPost Investigative Fund. At the end of the day, Mayhill Fowler asked for a paid position; we chose not to offer her one. Nothing new media or old media about that.
One recommendation: in the future, she should refrain from publishing private emails with her editors without their permission. This happens to be both an old media and a new media ground rule.
(Photo of Huffington: AP/Mark Lennihan)