The Huffington Post is the latest publication to come under fire for asking potential contributors to write for free. Yesterday, the soon-to-launch local edition of the global media juggernaut copped a serve from ad creative and writer Dee Madigan, after asking her to blog for the publication as an “unpaid activity”.

Madigan was contacted yesterday by HuffPo blogs editor Chris Harrison, who told her, in emails seen by Crikey, that he was reaching out to “thought leaders and opinion makers” to be part of The Huffington Post’s launching line-up. “Blogging is part of the HuffPost’s DNA and the Australian edition will be no different,” he wrote. “Everyone from Barack Obama to Alec Baldwin and Oprah Winfrey blogs with HuffPost, sharing views on subjects from politics to parenting and everything in between.”

The Huffington Post, Harrison noted, doesn’t ask for exclusivity, and it gives its bloggers free rein to write as often they choose. But Madigan wanted to know: would she be paid?

“The HuffPost blogging platform is an unpaid activity. Bloggers have direct access to the platform and blog whenever they wish,” Harrison responded. Madigan called the offer “insulting”, and shared her response on social media.

Writing on the internet is a vexed topic for publishers, and in Australia at least, relying on free writing has become unsustainable for many established brands. Mia Freedman’s Mamamia empire was criticised for years for not paying her writers, but it now pays a flat rate for opinion pieces as well as a higher rate for professionals. When Private Media launched Crikey‘s Daily Review two years ago, some writers were contacted and told they wouldn’t be paid, but after a public backlash, the website did agree to pay all of its writers.

Speaking to Crikey this morning, Madigan said online media had developed and matured, and there was no longer any doubt it could run on a commercial basis.

“When Mamamia first started, and when the Huffington Post started, as a business model, it was untried. Now they know it’s profitable. And that’s why Mia Freedman pays professional writers now, and even non-professional writers get a small amount. As a professional writer I wouldn’t write for free — and Mia wouldn’t ask me to.”

Crikey‘s queries to the local HuffPo operation this morning were referred to the senior head of communications, Sujata Mitra, who sent us a statement echoing others given by HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington on the matter, including on her most recent Australian visit. Mitra said:

“The Huffington Post is both a platform on which a hundred thousand people from around the world blog and a journalistic enterprise with hundreds of staff editors, writers, and reporters — all of whom have deadlines and filing responsibilities, and all of whom are paid. Our bloggers — most of whom are not professional writers … — can post whatever they like, whenever they like, and do so for the same reason people post for free on platforms such as Naver, Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp: to connect and be heard.

“Our bloggers are happy with this arrangement, and happy to access the platform and the huge audience it brings, without having to build, pay for, edit, moderate or maintain that platform. Indeed, we are inundated with requests from people who want to blog. The proof is in the pudding: people are looking to join the party, not go home early.”

Mitra pointed out that many other publishers, like The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and Forbes, also feature a mix of paid and unpaid contributors.