AOL to Movie Writers: You’re Fired, But We’d Love It If You Write for Free

aol email AOL to Movie Writers: Youre Fired, But Wed Love It If You Write for FreeUntil this morning, it wasn’t clear what would happen to freelance writers for AOL properties Moviefone and Cinematical in the wake of the Huffington Post takeover of the editorial side of the company–especially since editor-in-chief Erik Davis just resigned. But an email sent this morning, Subject: Moviefone/Cinematical – Status of Writers, somewhat cleared things up! 

Dear Moviefone/Cinematical Writers,

I know there’s been a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of freelancers and your status as a writer for the site. I personally apologize for the lack of communication, but I’ll tell you what I can…

Sometime soon–this week, I believe–many of you will be receiving an email informing you that your services as a freelancer will no longer be required. You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid blogger system; and though I know that for many of you this will not be an option financially, I strongly encourage you to consider it if you’d like to keep writing for us, because we value all of your voices and input.

The freelancers will be replaced by staff positions, although some will have the chance to apply for positions and some exceptions for specialized writers may apply, the email says.

“You guys, I bet this is all just a language barrier issue. Arianna Huffington thinks “freelancers” are people who write for free,” tweeted Eric Snider, a former Cinematical writer, who posted the email on Twitter today.


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  1. Nick Cicero says:

    This is some bogus stuff…AOL/Huff slips again.

  2. ZuDfunck says:

    As Jim Nabors use to say:
    Surprise, Surprise…
    If we had all just kept our Dial Up subscriptions
    none of this would be happening.
    I am sorry
    so sorry.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dear AOL Management,

    I know there’s been a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of AOL Management and your status as management for the site. I personally apologize for the lack of communication, but I’ll tell you what I can…

    Sometime soon–this week, I believe–many of you will be receiving an email informing you that your services as a manager will no longer be required. You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid management system; and though I know that for many of you this will not be an option financially, I strongly encourage you to consider it if you’d like to keep managing for us, because we value all of your voices and input.

    Please continue to perform your duties till I can get back to you about your future with AOL management.

    I’m sorry that I don’t have more specific details to give you, but I promise that I’ll keep you as well-informed as I can. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns.

    AOL Writers

    cc: @stevensanos, @ebertchicago, @andersoncooper, @RWW, @AskAaronLee, @fromedome

  4. I’m not surprised that this was coming but still, it’s something that any hard-working writer doesn’t want to see.

    Huffington’s always been clear about what price she places on original content. Good on the scribes that place more value on their worth than she does on their services.

  5. Dori says:

    Another form letter sent to AOL City’s Best freelance writers received this morning informing them that their services are no longer needed. What’s interesting is that just a few days before this, an email was sent to freelancers outlining a new pitch processes (with the HuffPo editors to be cc’ed ) along with a cryptic statement about how they are “really going to be focusing on the quality.”…. as opposed to what they were doing before.

    1. Tara says:

      Yeah, I just want to reach out in solidarity with you. I got that email this morning and was FLOORED. I just started writing three weekly columns for City’s Best and was extremely happy doing so. I’m so bitter and sad today that not even this pint of Turkey Hill Bavarian Espresso is helping. Good luck finding your next gig.

  6. Harry Husted says:

    What an insult to writers. I’m getting more and more feedback from companies asking writers to accept low wages or to write for free. What is the problem here. Writers are professionals as well. We deserve to get paid what we’re worth and more. Stop the nonsense. Companies like the Huffington Post need a wake up call. Maybe if people boycott the site and paper, and they lose business, they won’t think badly about freelance writers anymore.

  7. Miamibeach80 says:

    HP is a joke! Their editorial is poorly written– so many grammatical errors and run on sentences. Perhaps the HP should consider replacing their current editorial staff with these freelancers. Change is good!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ahhh Arianna, what a capitalistic coup, I love it! If there was no agreement performed for the services of some very talented people, then these blog authors should have taken along with their journalism courses a remedial law course to prepare for this type of event. One semester of contract law and you folks wouldn’t be sitting like an ostrich in a trailer park and now you’re simply chit out of luck. This is not Arianna’s problem; this is your problem for not taking the necessary preparatory and time to take care of Numero Uno you! I don’t wake up without an agreement. This situation seems to me that some may have assumed way too much. We’re you all actually counting on the emotive big heart of a capitalist?…….Surprise!!!!

    Note to the blog authors. I don’t care if your work is gratis, get everything in writing!

    Arianna congratulations on your being Conservative in Liberal clothing, I never saw this coming and I thought I’d seen them all. One of the best capitalistic moves I’ve observed. To the tune of what $315MM?……..Checkmate!

  9. Anonymous says:

    No surprise here. Huffington continues to exploit freelancers. Check out “Hey Arianna, Can You Spare A Dime” on Facebook to see what others are doing to pressure her to do the right thing.

  10. Anonymous says:

    People, what was once thought of as an online political experiment turned out to be a very lucrative enterprise. By way of agreeing or remaining silent as to Arianna’s initial ground rules you have now set a precedent here. When you all sensed, and I know you did, the value being created long ago is when you all should have approached HP management abreast and told them no go until a collective offer and acceptance had been pounded out. Huffington made $315 million using unpaid labor for crying out loud which doesn’t encompass her $4 million management salary, benefits and expenses. Now how many bona fide website owners are NOT going to follow this business model? In Huffington’s world its why buy the milk when the cow is free? And yet I see HP filled every day with writing from your colleagues. Do they not have any professional empathy to extend to you all regarding this situation? If not they are as bad as Arianna. I know it seems unfair but now it’s kind of hard to un-ring this bell, no?

  11. reese ramos says:

    This is crazy, things just seem to keep getting better @aol aren’t they?

  12. Anonymous says:

    The more I think about this the more its bothering me. Any good media or entertainment attorney should have a contractual template concerning the vertical issues of client protection in new media. If not I’ll create the template myself.

    The following would be incorporated within the body of the agreement outside of the normal bulk language that has some TEETH but when read is rather benign. This brief example is used within the HP context as follows:

    “The Company” and “Authors” (collective authors) collectively “Parties”

    Fictitious: Page 5, Para 4, Remuneration: “Pursuant to the “Parties” mutual responsibilities described under this Agreement the “Parties” also agree that should “The Company” generate add revenue “The Company” shall pay to “Authors” no less than 10% of gross add revenue sales from $1-$1MM and 8% of gross add revenue with sales over $1.o1MM. Should “The Company” be sold during the term of this Agreement or any extension thereof, the “Authors” will be compensated at a rate of 10% of the gross sales price of “The Company” or its monetary equivalent agreed to by the “Parties”.

    Of course this is very simplistic but one paragraph like this incorporated into the body of an agreement presented at the right time can produce wonderful things.

    This paragraph protects those who in this new media world need to roll the dice with a new company. An agreement that’s fair and non-threatening provides the leverage as to success fees for their collective work. I can tell you with some reasonable assurances that had you collectively gone to Arianna 8-12 months ago with an agreement like this, she wouldn’t have liked it but she would have signed it IMHO. In my experience owners in this business context will pay the 10% across the board as to not disrupt the corporate recipe. Just remember the more time that goes by, the more value is accumulated and the less you’ll be able to demand. Most attorneys representing the opposition would agree to these terms as long as corporate equity is not in play. Had an agreement event taken place on this would have allowed $31.5MM for a collective disbursement at the rate of 10% of which figure of 10% in this context is the sweet spot. Not only this but the opportunity to continue on with your work. One can predicate the remuneration on increased shareholder value; add revs, subscriber count, hits or all. JMHO of course but these are the types of negotiations where I’d claw the opposition’s eyes out, nothing personal Arianna.

    Today’s Journalists need specialized agreements like this because the business model Arianna has just had success with in the industry is new, it’s unfair but will invariably follow.

    What we don’t want the industry saying in two years is thanks Arianna for blazing this trail regardless of the path of talented carcasses you left behind, which is where this stands currently.

    What we want the industry to say is Arianna was the only one who thought she could get away with this. She may have but no other entity has had that opportunity since. The writers who bring the actual value to these companies figured out legally the imbalance of it all and successfully rectified that imbalance.

    Before: Sure we’ll work for free to get our names and work out in the marketplace.

    Today: Yes, we’ll work gratis to get the name of the Company established and our work in the marketplace but up to a specific point. Please review our agreement and we’re available to answer any questions or concerns you may have. Nothing unreasonable at all.

    You will win with this. All agreement negotiations are fluid until signatures are affixed. IMO and in summation some semblance of an agreement could have been in place that Arianna would have agreed to and that you all could have agreed to. Where that point is or was I have no idea however I can’t believe there was no instrument at all written or discussed. Regardless unless the issue of free labor was discussed specifically and agreed to specifically I would assume there to be an implied consent case from what I do know which is not much but knowing how Arianna works I’m assuming she has a strict confidentiality agreement in place.

    We’re in a whole new media world here and Arianna is teaching lessons. I reviewed “Hey Arianna, Can You Spare a Dime” on FB. I don’t FB but great page as this information needs to get out. The more I think about those that worked hard at their craft bringing value to Arianna so she could make this sale happen then being summarily dismissed to vantage her monetary position at the expense and pain of others makes me want to rip someone’s throat out.

    Essentially what AOL purchased was obviously the name you helped bring value too and Arianna’s managerial skills. Well her managerial skills are not worth $315MM IMO so what’s left? YOU!

    Good luck Gang and get your agreements together…..Tina