Mayhill Fowler and The Ethics of Quitting

The internet creates unfortunate opportunities for the fired, rejected, under-appreciated and disgruntled to do all sorts of harm to their previous employers and themselves. Former Huffington Post blogger Mayhill Fowler has considerately given us an object lesson in how not to leave a job, though at some personal sacrifice.

One of many unpaid bloggers to work at HuffPo, Fowler decided that it was time to be paid, and made a pitch, which was promptly rejected. After an exchange of e-mails with an editor, she decided to leave the website with an on-line, self-pitying shot at the people who had given her a chance to get some exposure for her writing, arguing (on her own blog) that…

“And at the end of the day, that is the crux:  I want to be paid for my time and effort—or at a minimum, to get a little remuneration in return for the money I spend myself in order to do original reportage.  I would not expect to be paid for punditry.  The Huffington Post business model is to provide a platform for 6,000 opinionators to hold forth.  Point of view is cheap.  I would never expect to be paid there when the other 5,999 are not.  However, the journalism pieces I have done in the past year seem to me as good as anything HuffPost’s paid reporters Sam Stein and Ryan Grim produce.  Why do they get money, and I do not?  I don’t recall either of them writing the story about Barack Obama waxing large on “clinging to guns and religion,” which seems more and more as time goes by to be the one big story out of the last presidential election to live on.  Or at least it is the one that journalists and pundits are quoting regularly now….So let this be a warning to you, citizen journalism enthusiasts.  In the end, what you are doing really is enhancing somebody else’s bottom line.  And think for a minute what it means when you throw yourself into working for a place, as I did, without first walking into the company’s human resources office to sign some paperwork that legally binds you and your employee to a relationship.  … As for Arianna [Huffington]herself, she is frequently in the Bay Area (as she will be this weekend for a book party), but she never invites me to any of her events…Don’t get me wrong.  Arianna has many wonderful qualities.  I especially admire her wit and her continual reinvention of herself, in that classic American (especially immigrant American) way.  But she is also the quintessential opportunist.  And I cannot help but feel that, at the end of the day, as I thought I was proving myself to her to be worthy of journalism, she on her part was milking me for everything she could get before letting me go…Readers, here is something for you to ponder.  The Huffington Post just took on Howard Fineman, a fine political pundit and maybe one of the last to leave the sinking ship Newsweek.  I predict he will stay about a year.  Maybe two.  He doesn’t want Newsweek to be the last thing on his resume.  He needs some “street cred” in new media.  Then he will go on to a university lectureship (Princeton, perhaps) or a think tank or a foundation in order to round out a prestigious career.  Likely both Fineman and Huffington are under no illusions about the hire.  But here’s the thing from my point of view.  So Fineman is getting a six-figure salary.  Deserved.  But why is there not a quarter of that for me?  Below are the pitches I made to Arianna this past year, which she said she did not have the money to fund.  Below that are links to the original reportage, at my own expense, I did for HuffPost this year.  Read.  Then let me know—no holds barred—if you think I have proved myself worthy of remuneration.”

Well, Mayhill, it’s like this: it doesn’t matter whether I think what you do is worthy of remuneration, or whether you do. What matters is whether the Huffington Post, which is the entity that will have to pay you, thinks so. And they don’t. They don’t have to, you know. They don’t owe you a thing: you agreed to write for them gratis, and the deal you and the Huffington Post agreed to was that you would write and they would give you exposure by publishing your work on their high-profile blog. I’d take that deal, too. But the arrangement creates no more obligation for them to pay you than it does for you to pay them. You have every right to ask for a fee, and they had every right to say no.

Then Mayhill Fowler had two ethical options, which were to continue writing for no remuneration, or to say thanks, shake hands, and leave without insults, rancor or recrimination, but rather with dignity and civility.

Instead, she posted her own critique of their decision, and worse, included the private e-mail correspondence between her and HuffPo management. That was unprofessional, and a breach of trust and confidentiality. It is also a spectacularly rude and foolish way to end any relationship. Whenever a job, affair, romance or marriage comes to an end, we should all make certain we are the ones whose ethics and conduct are beyond reproach. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also makes future relationships more likely, because people and organizations know we will be fair, civil, and trustworthy.

In Mayhill Fowler’s case, future employers have good reason to find journalists and writers who won’t violate trust and confidentiality out of spite, because someone doesn’t have as high an opinion of her work as she has.

7 thoughts on “Mayhill Fowler and The Ethics of Quitting

  1. Even pre-adolescents have learned not to post comments on the Internet that they will surely live to regret: in this case, below and beyond its content, a really embarrassingly awful piece of writing.

    • Yes, there is that too. It’s really embarrassing to write a piece complaining about how you deserved to be paid as a journalist, and have it prove exactly WHY you weren’t paid. She can’t write. Good call, Arianna!

  2. This could actually have been a good piece if she had written it in passive voice. She couldn’t get over her slight and outrage, which makes it a bad piece. If she had worked it into a generic “The Economics of the Blog Industry” or even an advice column of “When to write a blog for free and when is it time to get paid?” it could have been a very good piece. She just couldn’t resist lashing out at the fact that she felt she was undervalued by Arianna Huffington and Arianna didn’t make her her bff.

  3. I are a good righter, two. Bee nyser.

    Your own piece introduces a rare phenomenon: A misusage that reveals itself upon examination to be a thought-provoking and clever twist on the correct usage. Mayhill, of course offered us an “object lesson” (“a practical example offered to illustrate a principle or abstract idea”). But the lesson is “abject” as well (“sunk to, or existing in, a low state or condition”). I like it!

    Of course, you might have intended this witticism. And frogs might grow beards.

    • 1) NOBODY pays ME….
      2) In Boston, “abject” is pronounced “object.” Well, sort of. If you have a marshmallow in your mouth.
      2) It wasn’t intentional, actually. If fact, it was a typo. I’d give everyone a buck for each one they find on the site, but a) you’d get most of the money, and 2) I’d go broke.

  4. I don’t care one whit about the abject Mayhill Fowler, but the object lesson is a good one, if there are others out there who are stupid enough to need it. Apparently, there are.

  5. A little freebie lesson for Mayhill, from an actor who already learned it:
    You want to get paid for something you do? Make sure, before you do the work, that someone agrees to pay you once you finish it. Don’t write a “journalistic” article for HuffPo, or anyone, without a contract, either in writing or some form of agreement. Email counts, too. But get it FIRST.

    And when Arianna Huffington doesn’t invite you, one of the 6000 non-employed writers for HuffPo, to a personal event, don’t get your panties in a twist. She’s not your mama or your best friend. She’s not even your boss.

    And you’re screwed forever for writing for almost anyone else for pay. And you screwed yourself. Keep your whining to yourself and you have a future. Put it on the interwebs and you’re sunk for years.

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