Freelance vs Blogging

*Note: this post contains my personal opinions unless stated otherwise, and is open to discussion. Please keep comments respectful and constructive.

Last night my twitter feed was hijacked by a discussion about the lack of publishers who pay for articles, the difference between freelance and blogging and how free content/stories are driving down the fees paid to freelance writers.

Last night’s twitter discussion started when Spencer Spellman re-tweeted a posted by Kaleel Sakakeeny on Tripatini about the new travel article at Huffington Post. The article talks about a recent interview between travel blogger Chris Gray Faust and Kate Aluetta, travel editor for the Huffington Post. During the interview, Aluetta stated that HuffPost does not pay contributors, does not allow contributors to participate in press trips and requires full rights for photographs. The thought is that travel writers would concede to this arrangement, as it would drive traffic to their own blogs.

The discussion on twitter was carried out mostly by Gary of @everywheretrip and Pam of @nerdseyeview. It was interesting. It was the perfect debate. Gary was pro.  Pam was con. Both had excellent points to make. In fact, it’s a debate I would love to see at the next TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) in Vancouver- are you reading this post, Kim? Wink wink.

I’m going to recap a couple of points from each side that struck a cord with me.

Pam of @nerdseyeview


“should be a broader question, not just to @EverywhereTrip IF you’ve given your work away, do you feel complicit in driving prices down?”

“@nctaylor I’d start by not writing content. that stuff is full of HFCS. it’s what’s making us fat. write stories.”

“it’s really about where you goals lie. if you want as much traffic/link juice /to build a biz then that’s what you have to pursue…”

Gary of @EverywhereTrip


“@nerdseyeview if you view yourself as a writer for hire, then it is a bad deal. If you view yourself as a publisher, then it is different.”

“@nerdseyeview if you want to be hired help, then it’s great. If you want to stay alive as a business, you’ll take the subscribers.”

“@nerdseyeview I agree everyone has different goals, but in the end, the difference between a blog and a diary is an audience.”

Both Pam and Gary make excellent points.

I’m currently working on an article, which is taking a lot of my free time to research and write. It’s a topic that I’m passionate about and something I would like to share with a wider audience. However, the options are limited.

  1. Post the article on my own blog and pray for traffic and exposure- hoping for low bounce rates and return visitors.
  2. Post the article on a popular website with high traffic with no compensation.
  3. Post the article on a popular website with high traffic and compensation.
  4. Work my arse off to pitch the idea to several print publications and hope to catch a break. The world of print media may be eroding, but it’s far from dead.

What is the answer? Who is right? Well, in my opinion, everyone is right. Here’s the thing. You need to do what is right for you and your blog. No opinion is a bad opinion. What works well for Joe, may not work for Harry and vice-versa.

Yes, publishers need to step up their game and compensate writers appropriately for their work. However, with the amount of free content/stories being offered, it is unlikely that they will do so. If you’re a 150 million dollar company like Huffington Post, are you going to pay for articles when you can get them for free? No, you’re going to take the freebies and use your money elsewhere. Does it make them right? No, it doesn’t.

Please don’t misunderstand me. If you want to provide articles for free and receive traffic and linkage than that is your choice. What’s important are your goals and what you want to take away at the end of the day.  In terms of the Huffington Post debate, I think Spencer Spellman makes a valid case. Here’s what he has to say.

“I don’t know where you fall on the fence, but some travel bloggers think I’m hating on them because I don’t like Huff Po and refuse to write for them. I do, however, believe that Huff Po is a huge sell out. Here’s why travel bloggers want to write for Huff Po: 1) Link Juice-they get to have links to their sites from a site w/ a PR rank of 8, which boosts their site authority and 2) “Recognition”. Would you rather put in your cover letter or on your website that you’ve written for Nomadic Matt or Huffington Post? HP every time because of its authority and the fact that many book authors, celebrities and so on have written for Huff Po. It’s a straight shot to the top. Why wouldn’t you do it?!

I however, will never write for Huffington Post. First of all, because they don’t pay. Yes, I’ve written for free. I write free for my blog and from time to time do guest posts for friends. I heard from Tech Crunch that Huff Po is worth $150 million, yet you have travel startups and other much smaller, well-known publications and websites that pay, sometimes no more than $20, but yet they still pay and they have little to know budgets. I ultimately believe Editors will value someone more who puts their head down and works at it to get in a respected, paid publication than writing for free for Huff Po. I’m curious to talk about Spud Hilton about this.

Also, I believe Huff Po is doing a double standard. They say that you can’t take press trips, yet they don’t pay you. So you have to pay all your expenses when traveling and then write for free about it?

Anyways, this is my soapbox. I’m not at the core a travel blogger. I’m a travel writer. I wrote in college and have been writing for 4 years to be able to get where I’m at and still am low on the totem pole. This is something that is important to me, but again, not hating on people that don’t have a problem with writing for HP.”

This is a debate that is not going to go away anytime soon. As long as publishers refuse to give fair compensation, freelancers are going to struggle to make ends meat and bloggers who desire exposure, will continue to put themselves out there in any way they can.

In my eyes, this debate is very similar to the whole “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” At the end of the day, you need to do what is right for you and your blog.  Sit down and be specific with your goals and create a plan of how to achieve them. Think before writing. Write a good story and draw your readers that way. Do not sell yourself short. If you love to write, then write.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

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16 Responses

  1. pam

    I want to clarify a point here. I think it’s wrong that the HuffPo, a publication with a 15o million valuation and a wealthy woman at the helm, doesn’t pay many of their contributors. I *don’t* think it’s wrong to give your work away in all circumstances, I think that’s a personal choice. And in some cases, say you give a post about something you love to a site you really enjoy that isn’t a money maker, it’s a gift and a cooperative thing.

    I like to draw real world analogies. I see this as the difference between helping your friends move and helping a moving company move. The moving company doesn’t even buy you pizza when you’re done. Why would you give them your muscle?

    • Camels & Chocolate

      Amen, sista. And for every writer (not talking bloggers here) who continues to give away content for free to sites like HuffPo, more and more publications are going to continue to drop rates, knowing they don’t *have* to continue paying writers what the going rates are at the moment. It’s frustrating.

  2. Jenneil

    Very eye opening post and very interesting debate they had last night. I caught a bit of the end, but I was too late in the game to grasp the whole picture. Thanks for laying it out clearly for those who missed it.

    I can also see valid points on both sides of this issue. As a new travel blogger, I haven’t had much time to think that far ahead. Although I received some emails this week that forced me to think more about the long run. After reading the emails, my “credibility” sensors kicked in and I knew that the responses I gave to those emails could forever shape my credibility and success in my travel blog endeavors.

    Since I learned quickly in my current career field that credibility is all you really have, I feel well equipped to walk through the lions den of the travel blog world. Although not obviously relevant to the topic at hand, in my opinion they are one in the same. As long as you retain your credibility by being true to your readers and yourself, then writing for money or writing for free doesn’t really matter and it is rightfully a personal choice.

    Once you sell your “writing soul” (by writing something you don’t actually believe in) whether for money or link juice, your credibility is gone. On the other hand, I applaud those who write with integrity whether unpaid, for profit, for link juice or whatever.

    Could this negatively impact my potential financial success in the long run by driving prices down? Sure, but every field is ever changing. And, the person who is not able to adapt, is left in the dust.

    Ok. I will step off my soapbox now. Very compelling post 🙂

  3. Spencer Spellman

    Glad to see this post Pam and I will say that both sides, both the travel writers who refuse to write for Huff Po and the travel bloggers who jump at the chance, make very good points. I was extremely impressed by what I thought was the friendliness and the constructiveness of the conversation on Twitter and I hope it continues to be so; though I’m not holding my breath.

    • Pamela

      Exactly. I’m not judging or denying anyone the right to share their work, but publishers will never adjust their compensation to writers who make their living off their stories if they can find a wealth of stories for free.

  4. Camels & Chocolate

    Even though HuffPo just launched its travel site, there have been (credible) writers going on press trips for years and just paying the PR people back in HuffPo content. For me, I could never do this. Taking time away from my freelance office for a trip means that I must make at least the same week’s wages selling (print) stories from that trip that I’d make sitting at home editing or when I used to work in house at Conde Nast, Time Inc., etc. At the end of the day, you have to still make money to pay the bills, so personally, I would never write for Huffington Post, as it’s taking time away from the paid writing I do daily.

    At the same thing, Huffington Post reposted one of my blogs from Rwanda in the spring (without my consent), and I saw NO increase in traffic whatsoever.

    Interesting discussion going on all over the Web about this, though.

  5. Garrett

    Down with Huffington Post!

    Honestly, you do what you have to do. The more you have to lose, the less likely you are to sign on with Huffington.

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  9. Gray

    C & D would seem to be the best choices, IMO, but everything’s a crap shoot, isn’t it? Even Gary’s assertion that writing free content for Huffington Post is going to translate into more subscribers is a 50/50 chance. Nothing in life is guaranteed. As I said on Spencer’s site, I resent a wealthy company shafting writers by trying to get something for nothing. If they can afford to pay writers, they should. More subscribers or link love might help us make money in the long run, but in the short-term, we still have to put food on the table.

  10. Abby

    Wow. I’ve been traveling and missed this whole thing. I’ve become used to the Huffington model and have enjoyed some of the writers on there. Clearly, most people who would write for free have an agenda or business to push, and I like that they have an arena for that. But the fact that they won’t let writers take trips or anything else for free is absurd. I’ve worked at magazines and newspapers on both sides of the debate. When I’m the editor at a smaller magazine that pays on the lower side, I absolutely allow press trips, if I would buy the article itself whether or not the trip was being offered. Please, we’re not investment bankers here and do not have unlimited finances pouring in. Anything to help offset costs that my magazine can’t afford or allow a writer a new experience and/or a country/hotel/whatever get needed and deserved exposure, should be fine. For the Huffington Post to say that they won’t pay and won’t allow writers to get anything for free is very blatantly only going after writers of a certain financial standing. This is not an experiment aimed at backpackers and similar travelers. I think that’s a great loss for them. Trust me, I love me some Four Seasons. But for all intents and purposes to limit a travel site to that type of traveling is, well, ultimately their prerogative. And one aimed at travelers/writers instead of writers/travelers.

  11. Julie Trevelyan

    Wow. I missed this whole debate on Twitter, though I caught a tiny bit of it elsewhere. Hmm. I’d need to read all the viewpoints to make a reasoned argument either way. For me, my very specialized niche travel writing could use link juice. Would HuffPo really drive the right numbers to my words? Could be reasonable *if* it eventually paid off–literally. But how do you really know And then, for me the person who has bills to pay, I say heck no, pay me, and pay me now.

    Either way, fascinating subject. The digital world and pay models have evolved so quickly and drastically in recent years–just in the last year, let alone the last 5 or 10–that it’s sometimes an exercise in breathlessness to keep up with it all. Thanks for encapsulating this here. Much to ponder.

  12. Dave from The Longest Way Home

    I’ve seen this industry change a lot over the years. Like any industry it changes to survive and to grow.

    Media as a whole is changing, just like the times are changing.

    Do I think it’s right to write for free?

    It depends on your end game goals.

    The rise of make money from your travel blog websites, and the popularity of such sites in the last couple of years tells a lot.

    More so, the high membership rates in such sites.

    Huffington Post may not pay in cash value, or even traffic. But they pay in the almighty link value.

    High link value = higher site value in the eyes of search. Which, in the long run pays a lot more than a $300 cash in hand payment.

    There is also the element of exposure, credentials and PR.

    Again, relevant to your goals for writing etc.

    The real heart of this matter is talent vs PR/marketing. Until the search algorithms change, people will run in droves to high PR sites like the Huffington Post. It’s the internet’s Return On Investment.

    “Content maybe king” but kings need a kingdom to support them.

    At the end of the day(sadly) – link farms still rank high. As do blogs that spit out recycled content. Meanwhile “content” writers etc, struggle with time vs investment in this new media world. They really need to make choices in this changing world of ours.

    Or … pray for an algorithm change


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