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Confusion in the Age of Email Reporting: Labor Journo Mike Elk is Not Your Whore

Labor journo Mike Elk, who writes for, isn’t exactly shy and retiring. He recently filed charges and went on a cussing rampage after some corporate PR flunkeys from Honeywell tried to keep him in a locked room on Capitol Hill after a hearing so he couldn’t get to their boss.

Call this a lesson in unintentional  insensitivity in the age of email reporting or an instance of not Googling with the eye of a P.I. Or further still, an example of how email reporting can quickly go awry.

Last week Elk received what appears to be a confusing request from AOL Jobs Editor Dan Fastenberg to write something up for him. And considering Elk’s history with HuffPost — they fired him while he blogged for them for free — the response was not going to be anything but antagonistic. Also, “offer” would be strong. Fastenberg, whose interest was piqued by an old blog post by Elk, had asked him to write a “graph” or a “statement” on outsourcing and asked him to send over headshot. “That would be fantastic,” Fastenberg said, explaining to Elk, who had asked what his pay would be, “Like most major media outlets, we don’t pay sources. We are happy to include your thoughts. Please let me know.”

To Elk, this was “hysterical” on many levels. 1.) HuffPost ‘fired’ me as an unpaid blogger for helping a bunch of construction workers break into a mortgage bankers conference. 2.) I am a member of the Writers Unions and helped lead the strike of unpaid bloggers & called out my former boss for being a fucking scab.”

He added, “Please run this. If you need more swearing I will see what I can fucking do.”

Asked how he felt about being asked to write what he perceived to be a story gratis, Elk replied to FBDC:

“The fucking goombah must think I’m some sort of fucking schmuck or something that I would be willing to write for free. This is a real problem though all the fucking starfucking scabs that they masturbate to Ezra Klein columns and dream that some day some day maybe just maybe if I write for free, I’ll be a fucking Boy Bander like Ezra and Matty Y. They are fucking scabs and going to destroy our industry.”

Fastenberg maintains he never asked Elk to write a story for free or for pay. “I in no way intended to ask him to write a story for AOL,” he told FishbowlDC in a Monday conference call with an AOL publicist. “When he became so bellicose I just sort of stepped back. I didn’t realize the history. Unfortunately this history did not come up on the first Google page. There was never an intention [for him to write a story], it was a contribution. I simply saw an activist who had been vociferous about outsourcing. I don’t think he was looking to be cooperative.”

Photo credit: Jeff Rae. See another “free” opportunity Elk received and how he responded to it. It’s a pretty nasty exchange that you won’t want to miss…

In late March, Elk received another “opportunity” to turn one of his magazine pieces into a radio spot. “I’d be up for that, but you’d have to pay me,” Elk told Alex Lawson of We Act Radio.

Lawson: “You don’t understand how radio works. The payment is that you get to be on the radio. People pay to be ON the radio, not the other way around. Look at how WIN does it. They have an ad in their news breaks. That makes them money that is also their responsibility to sell those ads. Go to In These Times and see if they will pay you to produce a radio segment for them that will be on We Act Radio. Show them WIN’s minute and explain to them that there is potential ad revenue.”

Elk: “I don’t think you understand how labor law works. There are these things called minimum wage laws. If I am producing something for profit, then I get paid. I don’t care how it works in practice, I am a journalist and I don’t give my work away for free. ”

Elk: “I am really offended by the tone of your email.You cant seriously expect me as a professional journalist to work for free. If you guys had a non profit or something like that would be one thing to volunteer but what do I stand to gain from lending my journalist skills to a for profit enterprise that is not going to pay me anything. This is just insane and the tone of this is just crazy.”

Lawson: “You mean a start up, for profit entity that is entirely a loss right now, you want a piece of the loss? No so, I don’t give a fuck about tone. You should learn some about business before you lecture me about tone. You can learn that wage laws are important after a business moves beyond the start up phase where people voluntarily risk their equity or their sweat equity in the expectation of future rewards on the investment in a venture. How it works in theory, in law, and in practice. How do you think things get started? People invest their skills after valuing the prospects of an endeavor. You have an incredibly narrow conception of the concept ‘free.’ I have tons of content, I don’t need any content. I am trying to build something with people who want to build something. I rescind my offer.”


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