Dear Ms. Huffington:
The other day I was trying to locate something among newspaper clips of my work and I found an article that begins like this:
“In a land where perpetually blue skies and impeccable beaches serve as the backdrop for the highest mountain peak in the Carribean, Bill and Xiomara McDonnell found something even more beautiful – the art of giving.”
That was the lead that landed me my first front-page story as a journalist. It was July 14, 1989 and I was 28 years old. I had the honor of chronicling the experience of a couple who had discovered bliss by distributing over 200 baseball gloves to children in the Dominican Republic (they had been using their bare hands or sometimes milk cartons to catch a baseball).
Sentimental, perhaps, but this find from my past is what came to mind when I saw your most recent venture — The Huffington Post’s first-ever women’s conference, “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power.” Of course I love the idea. Much of my media career was focused on advocating for girls and women. I like how we’re evolving as a gender and that conferences like this exist.
But this one, I’m sorry to say, is tainted for me. And I won’t for a minute pretend I’m objective on this topic. I love journalism. I am crazy about journalism, warts and all. But when I read that you are leading a discussion about the ‘third leg’ of a stool with the first two legs being ‘money’ and ‘power’ my mind instantly reverts to how you amassed so much of yours – by not paying people for content they provide and hence disempowering not just them but all the other real, seasoned journalists who honed a craft that you’ve been instrumental in devaluing.
Do you know the ripple effects of this model? Do you know the major media outlets that now earnestly expect people to write for the sheer joy of being published or – as one of the best reporters I know was recently told – for the privilege of a byline? Are you kidding me? We’re not actors, financial planners, or entrepreneurs looking for “exposure” on your site to help our money-making venture thrive. We’re providing a real service we’ve been trained in and we’re good at it.
And here’s the rub. When I’m not wearing my writing hat, I’m coaching and very often I’m coaching aspiring writers. I love that I can help guide them in creating a portfolio because there are so many ways to get their writing out there. This is where the glory and possibility of the Internet come in handy. This is where it feels like their options are endless. There are plenty of places for them to target for their specific interests/niches.
But what happens after they finetune the portfolio? The writing samples are supposed to lead to something. What am I pointing them to? Do paid writing jobs exist for them?
Your HuffPo business model is brilliant. Unquestionably. That’s why others have been jumping on it. But, in light of what you’re supposed to stand for, is it ethical?
“Right now, the two metrics of success that drive the American workplace are money and power, but by themselves, they make a two-legged stool — fine for balancing on for a short time, but after a while, you’re headed for a fall,” you write. “And guided by this limited definition of success, more and more ‘successful’ people are falling. So what we need is a more humane and sustainable definition of success that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder, empathy, and the ability to give back. But how do we recalibrate our current benchmarks of success?”
I wholeheartedly agree. As is obvious from the 1989 article I wrote above, I’ve been thinking this way for a long time. Empathy. Giving back. It seeps into everything I do. I have no coaching clients who only strive for money and power because otherwise they wouldn’t be my clients. It wouldn’t be a fit.
It’s vital that I add something here. I am not writing this from the standpoint of a victim. I have a good life. I work hard. My creativity is unleashed daily. I live on my terms. I believe we create our lives. That means I have brought myself to this point for a reason. I’m 51 years old and I have evolved with the times and enjoy technology. Feeling the squeeze of my beloved profession’s slow demise disappoints me so, but it also challenges me to my core. I got this far because of a fire in my belly that even people who have loved me for a long time don’t quite get and that flame isn’t going out any time soon.
But that doesn’t make your well-intended conference any less tainted in my eyes.
What we need in the world is more appreciation for each other’s gifts – be they parenting, quilt making, house keeping, gardening, running a Fortune 500 company, fixing a leaky faucet or making a persuasive argument via essay. That is empowering. That facilitates cash flow. That stimulates an economy. That creates harmony and joy and enlivens people.
The third leg is appreciation, Ms. Huffington.
Thanks for listening.