Andy Warhol, “One Hundred One Dollar Bills” (1965) (detail) (image via

Even after the website’s sale to AOL for $315 million, Huffington Post still declines to pay its volunteer bloggers. In reaction, Post contributors from California-focused art sites ArtScene and Visual Art Source have announced a “strike” against writing for the website. The action begs the question, how can art writing remain viable online?

The LA Times‘ Culture Monster blog reports on the strikers’ demands:

In their announcement, the writers listed two primary demands: that a pay schedule be proposed and initiated for all contributing writers and bloggers, and that paid promotional material no longer be posted alongside editorial content… They also objected to the HuffPo’s publishing of catalogue essays — non-journalistic pieces that usually serve a commercial function for art galleries — without separating them from other editorial content.

The fact that Huffington Post doesn’t pay the majority of its writers, or compensates them instead through exposure and publicity, is well-established. What seems to have caused a stir this time is the failure of the website to use its newfound cash to start some kind of compensation system. Yet ArtScene and Visual Art Source knew full well that the Huffington Post isn’t exactly a bastion of editorial credibility, and wasn’t going to pay.

What ArtScene and Visual Art Source publisher and editor Bill Lasarow gave away content for was a massive gain in traffic and visibility, which is a fair reward in a competitive online world. The fact that he now wants to withdraw is fine, but to base this strike crying foul or saying that he didn’t get what he expected isn’t really valid.

How can credible art writing exist online? Well, the short answer is that it’s up to each one of us to stick to high standards. We can’t change our writing or editorial practices because of advertisers or simply chase the highest hit stats. I think the art world in particular respects voices that remain independent and strong. We have to value the independence of our writing and fight for it to always remain free-thinking.

LA Times commenter Stew Mosberg makes the point,

Anytime an artist, which includes writers, gives their work away for free they deserve what they get for their work. If we don’t value it, why should anyone else, including Huffington; no matter what she’s worth.

The only way to avoid problems like these is to stick to your integrity guns in the first place. Don’t write for free if you’re not sure the publication is 100% legitimate, respectful of editorial and commercial boundaries. Say what you think and use your own power to say it as loud as you can. Hopefully the art media will take care of the rest, without any need to give away work for free to an organization that stands to profit from it unduly.

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators...

5 replies on “How Can Art Writing Exist Online?”

  1. I think the question here is did these individual art web sites actually see significant traffic referrals to their own domains, or was their material solely used by Huffington Post to create more ad inventory. The promise of ‘great exposure’ for free writing is used by companies with dubious work ethics all over the place, and most of the time the referrals are pretty dismal and offer little to no actual material benefits for the writers who contribute, and only serve to further the umbrella site’s brand. In critiques, I constantly see generic terms like “massive gain in traffic and visibility,” but I have yet to see anyone produce numbers that prove this is happening. My own experience is that these referrals amount to about an extra 100 visits a month, even with good placement. Big whoop, that traffic definitely isn’t adequate compensation for my work, I could produce the same results without giving away my work to provide inventory for a for-profit institution. Meanwhile, even if the post of HuffPo might get tons of traffic, the referral figures just aren’t always there.

    Huffington Post has used this lie for a long time, and I think it’s more interesting to see how many people start absconding now that it doesn’t have the indie cred that once allowed it to coerce people to provide free labor.

    1. Did Huffington Post actually have any indie cred? I keep hearing people citing its status as an “up and coming” media outlet, but it was never anything but establishment for me.

      1. Don’t pull the nonprofit card. Those groups should be leading the way in stopping such abuses of labor and setting an example by offering alternative practices that might lead toward larger change. The group Working Artists and the Greater Economy (WAGE) has made small but not insignificant progress for payments between artists and museums. The same concept should apply to critics and publishers.

        I work for a nonprofit and wouldn’t ever do so for free. I’ve also written for the Rail but stopped, partly for the lack of pay.

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