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HuffPo Founder Who Asks People To Work For Free Says To Get More Sleep

Is is just me, or is Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington everywhere lately? Every time I turn on the television, there she is, promoting her new book entitled The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.

In a nutshell -- and I'll get straight to the point because I know how sleep deprived you are! -- Ms. Huffington wants to change the way we sleep. Human beings are not machines; we need regular downtime. REM isn't simply an awesome rock band, it's the key to a restful sleep. So cool your bedroom to 65 degrees, leave your smartphone charging on the kitchen counter, and close your eyes. Stop over-acheiving and start dreaming, America!

Ms. Huffington says she's getting a full eight hours of sleep 95% of the time, and she feels great. As someone who got a decidedly underachieving 6.5 hours of sleep last night, I think: Good for her. Learning how to unwind is a nice way of being kind to yourself. Even high-powered working professionals need a power nap.

Still, every time I stumble across her talking about the importance of adequate rest and how to make it happen, I can't help but think about the many talented writers who toil away without pay for The Huffington Post. After all, there's nothing that will bring on a 3 a.m. bout of insomnia quite like wondering how to cover this month's bills because you're working for free.

From cult actor Wil Wheaton, who took HuffPo's no-payment policies to task on Twitter and on his blog, to other writer and authors who are boycotting the site for the same reason, working for free (er, "exposure") is not working for many writers. As Mr. Wheaton puts it so well: "The company can absolutely afford to pay contributors. The fact that it doesn't, and can get away with it, is distressing to me."

Verizon bought The Huffington Post last year for a reported $315 million. $315 million. You'd think there would be a few pennies to scratch together for the contributing bloggers doing the daily grunt work. They're on the ground, making the calls, doing the interviews, looking up relevant statistics, writing the story while editing for grammar, organization and spelling, turning the story in on time, making changes for the editor, going back to look for additional statistics for a different editor, sometimes gathering needed photos, videos and artwork. Then their work is unleashed online, where commenters worldwide can pick it apart and call the writer a lazy idiot.

Welcome to the life of a freelance journalist, whose job now ranks among the worst jobs in America. It's a hard, stressful job that isn't for the faint of heart. Increasingly, it isn't for anyone who wants to earn a paycheck, either.

Of course, there are people who will say, "Hey, you made your bed now lie in it. Maybe you should have chosen a different line of work. Journalism school? Heh." Yes, we chose this job, because we love to write, gather information, and talk to people. It's what we do. We deserve to be paid fairly for our efforts, just like working professionals in every other field of work. Writing well is a skill, and writers are always negotiable.

In a Vogue article, Ms. Huffington is asked if she received any push back from people in her life about her extended bedtime schedule. She says, "People may have a boss who has unrealistic expectations. I did a panel at which a CEO said, 'I expect my chief of staff to be available 24/7.' I said to him, I expect in two years you will not be able to make that statement in public, the same way now that people can't say I don't hire women because they get pregnant. We're in transition. We have a growing number of executives who recognize that it's in the interest of the bottom line—forget everything else—to actually take care of the well-being of their employees."

Offering a paycheck for doing a job -- even a freelance project -- is the main way employers take care of the well-being of the people who work for them. Expecting them to work for no pay, and somehow get by that way, is an unrealistic expectation. With any luck, no media boss in two years will think they can "pay" writers in exposure. Let's hope the media world is in transition so freelancers don't have to lay awake all night wondering how to pay the bills.

Writers, please show more respect for your own talents. Yes, you are worthy of a paycheck. Never work for less. Trust me, you'll sleep better.

Bottom line: if you're going to write a book that encourages stressed-out employees to get more sleep while talented contributors to your online publication deal with the stressful disrespect of working for free, then I'm going to have a hard time buying what you're selling. To actually take care of the restful well-being of employees, employers must pay them a wage that allows them to support themselves and their families.

This opinion isn't one I'll need to sleep on, either.


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