I was one of the first bloggers to write for the Huffington Post. Back in 2006 I was invited to contribute. This was less than a year after you founded what was then called (by bemused media commentators who were trying to figure out what you were up to) an "online newspaper." Since that time I've written well over 150 articles for you, more than five hundred thousand words. In other words, about three books worth!
Some of my pieces have received many thousands of comments and have been read by hundreds of thousands of readers (actually, millions since they went "viral" appearing in hundreds of other places. President Obama has even put a few on his personal Web site of late).
Now that you have sold HuffPo to AOL, I've been reading pieces online and in print by some people wondering aloud if you have "sold out" and/or somehow "cheated" your "unpaid bloggers" like me. (One compared us bloggers to "galley slaves.")
So I'd like to take a moment to offer another view, one that starts with a resounding "Thank You" to you personally.
Here's why I owe you thanks:
You have done for me what no one else ever did, and we've never met. I have no personal connection to you and (other than one day when we were on the same TV show but in different studios) we've never even spoken. That said...
Was I paid for my blogs? Did you share your success?
Yes and yes!
I'm an author and, over the years, every time I've had the chance to comment on politics, religion and/or social issues on HuffPo, the books I've written on the same subjects made a measurable jump in sales. I've seen this or that book of mine at, say, number 5,000 on Amazon jump into the top 100 books in one day after one of my HuffPo pieces got a good response.
Moreover, you brought me new readers and you did it at light speed. I appreciate light speed! I know what slow feels like! During the last 20 years, I've written many an op-ed for newspapers including the Washington Post, LA Times, and USA Today. How does that compare to writing for you?
Newspaper editors hover! Pieces on "current" topics take days even weeks to finally be printed! I've done commentaries for NPR and for the News Hour on PBS. The producers rework material, in other words make it "fit" their audience.
Conversely, HuffPo only once -- out of hundreds of my pieces -- has asked me to make a change in wording, and that was because I'd said something too inflammatory from a legal point of view. It was a good call.
Otherwise, I've been given complete freedom of expression of a total kind that I've never been accorded by any news organization or publisher -- ever.
As a result of the freedom you have given me, I have become more daring in all my other writing. So it is no accident that it was in the context of my writing for you that I finally dared to tell the truth (in my memoir Crazy For God) as best I could about my past and describe just why -- as a founder of the Religious Right (in the 1970s) -- I'd left that world.
I'm a better writer because of the unofficial HuffPo "training" that has been a byproduct of the freedom you have given me. I have also earned a much better living as an author because of the opportunities to connect with new readers. I have gotten used to real freedom of speech, too, and no newspaper or other press organization has ever given that to me.
And on many occasions, I've had the chance to offer commentary in other venues (for instance on the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4, MSNBC etc) because producers have read one of my pieces on HuffPo on some subject. That has everything to do with the respect you earned for your organization.
Lastly, on a more personal note, I'd like to add this: As a fifty-eight year old former Republican and former right-wing activist who burned my bridges by "moving left," I didn't have a sense of where I belonged. You gave me a second chance. You gave me a place to work out my ideas, to change and start off in a new direction. And I've learned much more from your readers' thousands of (often brilliant) comments on my blogs than they have learned from me, even when they've blasted me. You did not just give me a platform, but a relationship with readers like none other.
Thank you for your creative vision and business acumen. Yes, the blogs were for "free," but your work and the respect you have earned in the media means I've been paid well a hundred times over.
I wish you every blessing. I am grateful.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of the forthcoming book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway