I’m getting accustomed to the idea of protests being a semi-permanent part of the landscape, but it’s helpful to remember that sometimes they have a life cycle and even see resolution once in a while. And then sometimes they just… fade away. Yesterday we had news from the Newspaper Guild and the National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981 that they were ending their boycott of the Huffington Post, though without any particular resolution besides a willingness to discuss matters. The strike, initiated last March after the site was bought up by AOL for $315 million, called for all unpaid writers to withhold work in objection to its practice of not paying contributors.
Seven months down the line, not much has been accomplished other than HuffPost’s agreeing to talk. Perhaps Arianna Huffington’s empire in conjunction with AOL is big enough to throw its weight around and convince labor to back off, or maybe there’s some honest conciliation about to take place—nothing is clear. The Writers Union says it is still committed to its Pay The Writer! campaign, while the Newspaper Guild sounds a little more appeased:
Now that we’ve opened a dialog with HuffPost, it makes sense to us to set aside the boycott as we attempt to work together and move forward. There is no single, clear cut answer to what constitutes an acceptable unpaid op/ed piece, when casual commentary crosses the line into researched analysis, or when a discussion about ideas becomes an “assignment.” These issues will need to be monitored and reassessed continually, and we think that can best happen by building a constructive relationship with HuffPost. However you feel about the Huffington Post, they are clearly a major player in emerging models of online journalism.
While I obviously don’t know the finer points of the cease-fire, it sounds an awful lot like the Guild and the NWU got Yes-Deared—the cheating spouse has wearily agreed to call the marriage counselor, one of these days. Other than the organized boycott, the strike seems to have been short on good old-fashioned labor tactics, and HuffPost hasn’t exactly been hurting for content. Mike Elk, writing on the labor blog In These Times, points out:
After the boycott, newspaper guild organizers scrambled to draw up lists of prominent writers supporting the boycott, but still have yet to produce such a list of people in support of the action. Few events or actions have been held to support the boycott, which has largely been ignored by prominent progressives, including several high-profile labor-funded progressives.
Who knows, maybe this will play out as some sort of progress. Everyone seems to agree that writers and bloggers are valuable resources and deserve to be paid for their efforts—it just remains to be seen whether this fabled money will actually materialize from the coffers of HuffPost and AOL.
Now if only someone would tell my boss I should get money for this, we’d all be happy.