Opinion: Media: Show us the money, say unpaid Huffington Post contributors

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Op-Ed columnist Tim Rutten took Arianna Huffington to task for HuffPo’s business model (unpaid writers) after her company merged with AOL for $315 million. He wrote:

The Huffington Post is a brilliantly packaged product with a particular flair for addressing the cultural and entertainment tastes of its overwhelmingly liberal audience. To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates. Given the fact that its founder, Huffington, reportedly will walk away from this acquisition with a personal profit of as much as $100 million, it makes all the Post’s raging against Wall Street plutocrats, crony capitalism and the Bush and Obama administrations’ insensitivities to the middle class and the unemployed a bit much. The fact is that AOL and the Huffington Post simply recapitulate in the new media many of the worst abuses of the old economy’s industrial capitalism — the sweatshop, the speedup and piecework; huge profits for the owners; desperation, drudgery and exploitation for the workers. No child labor, yet, but if there were more page views in it…


One such galley slave has had it. Bill Lasarow, publisher of ArtScene and Visual Art Source, has formed a group and set out some demands. They will no longer provide free content to HuffPo. In the manifesto (via The Wrap), Lasarow says they’ll remain on strike until:

First, a pay schedule must be proposed and steps initiated to implement it for all contributing writers and bloggers. Second, paid promotional material must no longer be posted alongside editorial content; a press release or exhibition catalogue essay is fundamentally different from editorial content and must be either segregated and indicated as such, or not published at all.

Of course, what the Huffington Post hasn’t forked over in terms of cash, it’s made up for with what some might say is invaluable exposure among an engaged audience, which Lasarow acknowledges. Still, he feels, the practice is unethical, especially in light of the HuffPo’s new cash flow.

It is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing. It is unethical to cannibalize the investment of other organizations who bear the cost of compensation and other overhead without payment for the usage of their content. It is extremely unethical to not merely blur but eradicate the distinction between the independent and informed voice of news and opinion and the voice of a shill.None of this is illegal, only unethical and oh so very hypocritical, so Ms Huffington if you insist do carry on, by all means. However we are taking this action, with the full knowledge of our contributing writers and editors, in the belief that your better angels will enable you to do the right thing. We stand ready to provide whatever helpful input we can.


AOL ♥ HuffPo. The loser? Journalism


The conversation: Predicting the future of journalism through the lens of the AOL-HuffPo merger

--Alexandra Le Tellier