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AOL Shifts from Freelance to Full-Time

Freelancers have been turning out copy for magazines, TV and online sites for many, many years. Some of the copy isn’t the best, but there are plenty of great freelancers out there who know how to craft a great story and can do it from inside the walls of their own home (or the local Starbucks.)

Arianna Huffington doesn’t agree. That’s the rumor, anyway. According to Business Insider, AOL, under the leadership of Huffington, is doing away with freelancers. Not only are they looking to work with only full-time employees, but one source says, those employees are expected to be at their desks at 9:00 am.

Business Insider posted an email that was sent to them from a former freelancer and I found this paragraph particularly interesting.

We’ve been told that all these new, full-time employees will be expected to report to the office every day for a 40-hour work week. For some reason, it’s very important to Arianna [Huffington] to have writers physically working in a newsroom in either LA, New York or Washington, DC, thus going back to an archaic newsroom model that went out with the invention of the telephone, and needlessly eliminating any talented writers in other parts of the country. So much for a global, cutting edge news team.

Huffington has been quoted as saying that she’s working to bring back old school journalism and for that, I say, yeah! But by cutting ties with freelancers, she’s in essence saying that she doesn’t believe they can do as good a job as an employee and that’s ridiculous.

News doesn’t happen only in LA, NY or Washington, DC. News happens everywhere, and having a freelancer close to the source can make the difference between getting the inside scoop and getting the scoop everyone else got. When it comes to niche topics, doesn’t it make more sense to have a freelance foodie from Florida than a full-time writer who also covers gardening, books and events handle that beat?

AOL’s business-and-finance editor Peter Goodman took issue with Business Insider’s original story and here’s what he had to say;

It is true that we are shifting from relying on freelancers and contractors to investing in full-time staff. We feel this gives everyone greater security and a shared mission. And we do want people right here in the newsroom, to participate in the sorts of spontaneous conversations that often yield the best ideas. This is something about which we are unabashed and even proud: We are assembling a first-rate group of full-time staff to take us forward.

As much as I hate to admit it, he’s got a point there. The one, very large, downside to having a team spread out all over the country is communication. I’ve worked with a half-dozen virtual companies and no matter how many phone calls or Skype meetings you set up, someone is always left out of the loop. And when it comes to brainstorming nothing beats a face-to-face pitch session.

But what Goodman gives with one hand, he takes away with the other.

At the same time, we will continue to embrace the contributions of a wholly different group of people — our enormous, diverse, vibrant community of bloggers. These are people who are free to write or not write as they choose. We own no claim on their time, or guarantee on production.

The phrasing here says that bloggers are not paid, someone correct me if I’m wrong. This paragraph goes along with a line in the original Business Insider post which said that although freelancers were being let go, they were told they could still contribute without pay.

I’ve been in the position of managing a writing team for a website and it is hard to keep the content flow and standards up when they’re freelancers. That’s been my experience and it sounds like AOL feels the same way, too. The trouble is AOL needs a huge amount of content everyday and now it’s going to be up to the chosen few to fulfill what was the work of the many.

So congratulations to the newly hired, full-time writers and kudos to AOL for trying to up the quality of content on the web. I’d also like to send my condolences to those same full-time writers who are going to be tearing their hair out a month from now as they try to meet all of their deadlines.