Cinematical veteran: “Those guys had a really valuable asset, and they lost it.”

By Sean O’Connell What went wrong?

Those on the outside who watched Cinematical implode quickly jumped to the conclusion that Huffington, who’s now in charge of AOL’s editorial decisions following an AOL/HuffPo merger, was trying to get something for nothing. The HuffPo co-founder and editor-in-chief has been criticized for her infamous payment (or nonpayment) practices at the well-read news aggregate site, which promises most of its writers a byline but no financial compensation for their work.

Did this business model indirectly lead to the dismantling of Cinematical? HuffPo wants us to believe this is not the case. In a statement released by Mario Ruiz, the company’s media relations senior vice president, HuffPo claimed:

“The Huffington Post Media Group has provided freelancers with as much clarity as possible about our intention to build a great team of full-time editors, writers, and reporters, and we regret that Patricia’s email misrepresents these efforts. In fact, we have been very forthcoming and transparent in our communication with freelancers through multiple calls and emails and have encouraged freelancers to apply for full-time positions. But we never asked freelancers to become unpaid bloggers — that is not how our group blog works. Our bloggers, many of whom are not professional writers, post on the HuffPost platform to expose their views to a wide audience, and to raise their profiles.”

But former Cinematical staffers didn’t see it that way.

“Just to be clear, problem w/ Cinematical isn’t ‘we’re moving away from freelancers.’ It’s ‘but you can still work for nothing if you want,’” Scott Renshaw Tweeted.

But it isn’t just a “we won’t write for free” mentality that scared Cinematical staffers away. Weinberg was quick to defend sites like efilmcritic, which can’t pay its writers but does foster a culture of respect and growth as it nurtures film writers with varying degrees of experience and expertise.

“It didn’t pay me one nickel,” Weinberg told me about efilmcritic. “Here’s what it got me. It got me local press credentials in a time when Internet people were not given access. … And I learned a lot at efilmcritic. I literally would not have had Cinematical, I wouldn’t have FEARnet, I wouldn’t work at Twitch, I wouldn’t know the hundreds of great writers and filmmakers that I know now, and I wouldn’t be talking to you about Cinematical without the lessons and the friends that I got at efilmcritic, where I made nothing.

“And there’s an argument for not paying your writers,” Weinberg continued. “It’s not even decency. It’s just good business. If you get good people and treat them well, you will succeed. Don’t try to low-ball them. I think there is a great way for corporate and creative to work hand-in-hand, but I also think that because a lot of corporate decisions get made behind closed doors, selfishness and greed reigns sometimes. Those guys had a really valuable asset, and they lost it.”

To read part one, the beginning of the end of Cinematical, click here.

To read part three, calling for an AOL and HuffPo boycott, click here.

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