Union organizers at the Huffington Post have asked staffers for examples detailing when their editorial independence has been breached, according to an email circulated at the news site. Such examples could provide fodder for union negotiators at the website, who are in the midst of talks with management over a collective bargaining contract. The request follows the announcement that Editor in Chief Arianna Huffington had joined the board of Uber, and that an editor at the site had killed a story pitch unfavorable to Uber just after the Huffington Post had inked a partnership with the company. (The editor subsequently apologized for the action, saying that “partnerships never affect our coverage,” among other things; he also sent an explanation to colleagues).
As the Huffington Post itself reported in December, more than 220 editorial staff members signed union cards as part of an effort to organize under the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), which has also led such efforts at Gawker, ThinkProgress, Salon and Vice Media. At that time, a statement from the organizing committee read, in part, “In just a few months, staff across the country united around key issues including: transparent and equitable compensation, clear job responsibilities, editorial freedom and independence, diversity in the newsroom and consistent management protocols on hiring, firing and discipline.”
The part about editorial freedom and independence isn’t just a throwaway item to fatten the list of demands. The email sent to staffers lays it out. It reads, in part:
At the second bargaining session, we presented and shared our experiences related to workload, staffing and diversity. Our next session is on May 17, and we will continue to present on issues that impact editorial staff.
We’re upset at the events of the past week and we know many of our peers in the industry are as well. While Arianna’s promise to recuse herself on Uber coverage is a move in the right direction, as many of you have told us, there needs to be a clear newsroom-wide policy on editorial independence.
We have yet to present our editorial independence proposal, which includes language related to branded and sponsored content, who makes editorial decisions and editorial policy. If you have had an experience related to editorial independence that you would like us to include in that presentation, please reach out to your bargaining committee rep.
Allow the Erik Wemple Blog to forward a few links, which are contained in this April 22 post regarding the various ways in which Huffington Post staffers covered the release and the promotion of Arianna Huffington’s new book, “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.” For instance, one staffer wrote up a post titled, “Arianna Helps Joe Scarborough Get A Better Night’s Sleep.” What individual launches a career in journalism to write a piece like that?
Through a spokeswoman, the Huffington Post declined to get into specifics. “We will not be responding to items from our negotiations at this time. We firmly believe that negotiations should be done at the bargaining table, and not in public exchanges with the press,” reads a statement from Huffington Post spokeswoman Lena Auerbuch.
Though the Erik Wemple Blog cannot predict union negotiations, Huffington has been steadfast in professing the editorial integrity of the Huffington Post in light of the recent articles about Uber. Despite the rejection of an article regarding a napping Uber driver, Huffington’s reps have noted that the outlet has published tough coverage of the controversial company, even as the editor in chief has struck up a friendship with Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick. And regarding the “Sleep Revolution” stuff, Huffington has argued that there’s “no evidence” that the site’s editorial resources have been imprudently diverted toward her own book project.