A couple of weeks ago, AOL threw its freelance journalists into purgatory:They were supposed to sit tight and wait to hear from their editors on their roles in the post-merger Huffington Post Media Group.
The freelancers, naturally, assumed that this meant they were about to get canned.
And this suspicion, it appears, was correct.
Here’s a note from one:
Well, it’s official: The Huffington Post Transition team has just eliminated all AOL freelancers and contractors (at least those in business and finance–everything under Peter Goodman). But we have been invited to continue contributing for free. We will be replaced either by a handful of people Goodman has in mind, or with young, new (read cheap) writers who have yet to be hired.
We’ve been told that all these new, full-time employees will be expected to report to the office every day for a 40-hour work week. For some reason, it’s very important to Arianna [Huffington] to have writers physically working in a newsroom in either LA, New York or Washington, DC, thus going back to an archaic newsroom model that went out with the invention of the telephone, and needlessly eliminating any talented writers in other parts of the country. So much for a global, cutting edge news team.
The entire communications stream has been extremely unprofessional. Writers have been given conflicting and inaccurate information from their managers since the transition began, and this is mostly because managers have been given inaccurate and intentionally misleading information by the Huffington Post transition team. AOL managers have been kept in the dark and have not been made aware of the “new direction” they’ve been told to take. They basically have no idea as to who will be creating content for them, and what content is expected.
The entire transition process has been schizophrenic — we were told that they would not be rushing into anything, but that the process would be completed in three weeks. We were also told that everything would be handled on a case by case basis, and then we were all let go, no exceptions made, on one day.
I hate to see what this portends for journalism in general. Arianna has taken the “Free Content” model just too far, and for some odd reason, harkened back to the 20th century.
AOL had indeed assembled an excellent group of freelancers, and on their behalf, we’re certainly sorry to hear this news.
For what it’s worth, we do understand Arianna’s desire to have most folks working in the newsroom. The freelance model is often challenging in this medium because of the need to produce content in real-time and respond instantly to news.
Huffington Post has also hired some extremely expensive full-time editors and writers lately, so this isn’t all about replacing expensive folks with cheap ones. But it sounds as though, in this battle, the Huffington folks have won out.
(And at the rate the transition is happening, there soon won’t be anyone but Huffpo folks left. The team at Engadget, one of AOL’s most successful pre-Huffpo brands, just quit to start a competing site at SB Nation.)
UPDATE: AOL’s business-and-finance editor Peter Goodman says it is not true that AOL has fired all its freelancers. Peter says the company is hiring some of them full time.