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If nothing else Jonathan Tasini, the guy suing Arianna Huffington for $104 million, knows how to get attention (which is ironic since one of his complaints about HuffPo is that they didn’t expose him to enough of it). He’s definitely got plenty of it now.
Tasini did an interview with Paid Content last night that makes clear he has no intention of dialling back on his claim that somehow Arianna owes him, and the group of unpaid bloggers he represents, a third of the profit she made on the sale to Aol.
He goes so far as to call Arianna the Marie Antoinette of the media world, and dubs all those who are criticising his lawsuit (I am one) “bootlickers.”
To anyone who’s been in the online media business for longer than five seconds, name-calling is small potatoes. However, a couple of Tasini’s answers made me wonder if part of the problem here is that he hasn’t been in the online media business.
Here’s what I mean.
When Paid Content’s Joe Mullin points out during the interview that Tasini et al. knew what the deal was when they went in, i.e. that they’d be blogging for free, Tasini responds “Did those bloggers know that The Huffington Post was going to get sold for $315 million?”
Obviously not. My goodness. Did anyone at HuffPo know the end result five years in would be a sale of this magnitude? Of course not. Did it occur to them in their wildest dreams? Possibly. But I’d be surprised to hear if it did. I’m not sure it even occurred to anyone until the sale was made public, and even then more than a few jaws dropped.
People start Internet companies, any companies, every single day with the hopes of making a fortune. Very few do. Obviously. It’s a huge gamble. With no promise of a good outcome. Even for the people who slaved to build it and were promised a piece of the pie because of that.
Tasini makes it sound like back in 2005 Arianna was in possession of some sort of crystal ball. Which brings me to my second point. Tasini goes on to say “The whole notion that there would be this “promotion” was questionable. Also in general there was a deception—and I’m being very careful about how I say this—there was a deception about what the ultimate purpose of this site was. What would be the disposition of it, who would benefit from that, and what the profits would be.”
I have no idea what notion Tasini is speaking to, or what promises if any, were made to him (I do know many people who have blogged for HuffPo, myself included, to whom zero promises were made).
But as far as “deception” about the ultimate purpose of the site, again, obviously purposes change with need, success, technology. Never more so than in the online business in the last decade. You’d be hard-pressed to recognise today any site that launched in 2005.
The ultimate purpose of Huffington Post starting out was to be an answer to Drudge. It’s an entirely different beast today, in part because the amount of technology that has been invented in the last five years has made everything a different beast.
But also partly because in the online media world you have the ability and the onus (if you want to survive) to respond to what users want immediately. What users want and what you set out to provide often prove, very quickly, to be very different things. I think the “deception” Taisini is referring to here is what’s called knowing which way the wind is blowing and/or good business sense.
Meanwhile, Tasini also tries to buttress his lawsuit with the claim that lots of people want in on this case: “I think there’s a lot of support out there. I keep getting emails from a whole variety of writers who want to join on as plaintiffs, who are giving us all sorts of inside information.”
Gee do you think? No kidding there are people out there willing to sign on to a possible (slim though it may be) $105 million payday. I think that is called good old American opportunism.
Then again, according to Tasini the reason I am “expressing opposition” to this lawsuit is because I’m a “bootlicker” who is “suffering from a fear of being blacklisted.”
And while it’s true that I may look back fondly on the days where it was possible to be blacklisted (otherwise known as, before Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the NYT effectively blacklisting itself with a paywall) as a time when writers were provided copy editors, someone should probably inform Tasini that blacklisting at least went the way of print subscriptions. This is the internet, there are always other places to go…and in my experience most of them will pay for good writing.
On last thing. Tasini tells Mullin that “A lot of people were shocked by the notion that once sold, everything we wrote was [owned by HuffPo].” This is simply not true. Nothing is owned by HuffPo. Nor was I as a blogger ever lead to believe it would be.
Just to be sure, I double-checked this with HuffPo’s spokesman Mario Ruiz who confirmed for me that people retain rights to the content they post there. And pointed me to Arianna’s lengthy post the other day in which she notes for the uninitiated that bloggers “can crosspost their work on their own sites or elsewhere — they own the rights to their work and can repurpose it in any way they choose.”