As I've mentioned here in the recent past, the Huffington Post has gotten much more corporate and bureaucratic over the past 6 months to a year. It's clear that this is a result of the AOL buyout, but it took a couple years to fully manifest itself. There have been a lot of little hints along the way -- technical requirements for posting the articles and repeatedly giving approvals and formatting checks, and things like that without going into the details. But more pronounced has been their rejection of material.
One always thinks, "Gee, is it just me?," but it was nice -- though also unfortunate -- to discover that it's actually happening to others and is likely widespread. I have quite a few friends, professional writers all, who've been getting articles rejected, but the more galling thing is that no explanations are ever given. (One friend wrote a piece about being kind to others. It was rejected! Why it was rejected -- no idea. Another friend had a perfectly benign tech review rejected -- and was never told why.)
The "giving no explanation" is part of that new corporate structure. Before, indeed not long ago, editors would write back what their issue was, and the problem could be easily rewritten and fixed. Now, it's impersonal and rude. But it's more than that, and a larger problem. Rude is rude, one doesn't like it, but you deal with it. But if you're not told the reason why something you wrote was rejected, you'll likely keep making the same "mistake" over and over and over. And few people (most especially few people who are writing something for free) like to waste their time making the same "mistake" and getting rejected. You want to be told why, so that you can fix the issue, or avoid the potholes the next time -- and not waste your time. One would think that the publication would want that, too. It would seem a win-win. For one thing, good articles that were just slightly off could be fixed.
Hey, for all I know, the articles were awful and had big errors in them and were totally inappropriate. I don't think so (and I'm referring to the ones I read by others, as well as my own), but I'm willing to accept that it's possible. But if that's the case, without knowing, you can't fix the problem. It doesn't seem a very effective way to run a pop stand or pilot a ship.
As you might imagine, I had another piece rejected yesterday -- and of course with no reason given. It was one I'd written initially for this website here a week ago, about Liz Wahl, the host for Russia Today who quit on air. (And no, it wasn't turned down because it was written here first -- ever since the Huffington policies have clearly been changing, almost all my pieces that I've subsequently posted for HuffPo have been written here first. And 95% of them have been accepted. And almost all made Featured Posts.)
I used to find such rejection galling (after all, they were pieces for my own personal section of the Huffington Post), but I recognize that I at least have a separate outlet for them -- and I’d also post a link to it on Facebook and Twitter, to draw attention to them. It’s still very annoying,, though no longer distressing. For other HuffPo writers, though, that isn't the case, since they don't have that outlet.
I wonder too how Huffington readers would react if they knew how much material was being blocked and kept from them. (The three pieces I've had rejected were criticisms of two journalists and one of Sarah Palin.) It's certainly Huffington's right to reject anything they want, for any reason, and without explanation. But just because you have the right to do something doesn't always make it a wise thing to do. I suspect, too, that readers wouldn't be pleased, and that over time those people writing the articles won't be either.
To be clear, I like the Huffington Post, and for the most part it's extremely good. They do an impressive job aggregating the news, having their own fairly strong reporters (particularly in politics) and providing an outlet for outside "citizen" opinion, albeit unpaid. And they're pretty adventurous in trying to incorporate new technology into their framework, and are continuing evolving, which is impressive for a large, corporate organization. But "for the most part" doesn't mean they don't have some big hiccups along the way that don't need to be addressed.
You may recall a while back I wrote about the bizarre time I had trying to get an article I'd written deleted from the Huffington Post. One explanation given to me was that "transparency" was important to them, and they had to be transparent for the sake of transparency. One would think that given a reason you rejected an article would be a very transparent thing to do...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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