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AOL-HuffPost and you get the story you’re looking for

February 8th, 2011 · No Comments

With Arianna Huffington’s (massive) cashing in as AOL buys Huffington Post for over $300 million, a number of stories are at play. One of the questions:

Will the horde of (reported) 6000 bloggers who posted without financial compensation still post there?

As one of that horde, a number of people have asked that question of me … including reporters.


One of these queries came from the new kid on the web reporting block, the Murdoch-partnering with Apple for The Daily. The received query:

I’m a reporter with The Daily, the new national publication for the iPad that News Corp launched last week. I’m working on a story about AOL’s $315 million purchase of HuffPo and we want to interview some of the unpaid bloggers who have helped make the site so successful.

First off, how do you feel about your content now potentially reaching such a broad readership, now that AOL and HuffPo’s readers will be combined?

Will AOL’s political bent influence your decision to continue blogging for free?

Do you still plan to blog for HuffPo, and would you hope to get paid now that they are owned by such a big company, especially considering that the Patch contributors get paid around $50 per post?

Some interesting questions here although, to be honest, I read it as fishing for complaints desiring for bloggers to scream for pay.

My response:

Let me provide you some reaction:

  • In terms of progressive voices in America, this is a tremendous signal. AOL has decided to commit serious funds (that $320 million) to buy Huffington Post, which is a progressive online media site. What does that say, writ large, to the nation about the commercial value of progressive commentary?

Seriously.  Writ large, Huffington Post is on the progressive side of the ledger.  The paid staff are doing a good job of reporting honestly and truthfully, and, well, being reality-based has a liberal bias in today’s America.  And, there is more coverage of serious issues (like financial scandals, labor, etc …) at Huffington Post than one will find at essentially any traditional media outlet.  While there are many engaged at Huffington Post who are anything but liberal (when posting on climate change, there are often anti-science climate deniers posting comments) , writ large it is a “progressive” space giving visibility to many progressive voices and organizations.  And, that has a $315 million market value!

  • If you track back, I have had reduced writing at Huffington Post over the past year. (Although, I have an item up on Green today — which might have led to this email.) Huffington Post staff recruited me for writing. When I started, I could simply write what I wanted — I was ‘trusted’. Now, however, my (and, as I understand it, most others’) work goes into a queue for review by ‘editors’ who I don’t know and who don’t communicate other than to, eventually, let me know (anonymously) that the work is published. Considering how well they pay … hmmm … it is isn’t really of much interest to play by those rules that often.

To be honest, it felt sort of cool to become one of the ‘in crowd’ of bloggers with that information. Tell people that I blog at “Get Energy Smart! NOW!” and there is no reaction. Mention Celsias, Eurotribune, or others and the recognition outside small-knit communities isn’t rather overwhelming.  More people recognize FireDogLake and DailyKos but not most.  Say “I blog at Huffington Post” and, well, essentially any reasonably informed American has heard of it — even if they’ve never visited. It has — whether merited or not — a form of wow factor.   As this second point suggested, however, that wow factor faded as the hassles of Huffington Post blogging increased. (Such as instructions for unpaid bloggers, like myself, to make efforts to publicize posts to increase the likelihood that Huffington Post would give our posts better billing … to increase traffic to Huffington Post … to increase advertising revenues … to increase the market value for a sale to AOL … E.g., Huffington Post has been a business even as that business nature becomes far more apparent with the AOL deal.)

  • I publish at my own site and have my material posted to many other sites.  I am doing this because of the importance of the issue / the message rather than because of the payments. If there is some form of ‘message’ that merits the effort of communicating via Huffington Post, I will do so. And, the combination of AOL and Huffington Post could extend that reach.

Yup.  If the message is what matters and getting the message to more eyeballs is my “pay”, the AOL-HuffPost deal might just represent increased ‘compensation’ for posting there as more people are likely to see the content.

  • While many of the ‘free’ bloggers at Huffington Post are people for who this is an extension of their salaried work, that is not the case with many others — including myself. Considering some — even nominal — payment could well make sense in many cases but $20 or $50 won’t really make the difference for someone whose day job is enhanced by posts at AOL Huffpost.

And, when it comes to ‘compensation’, there are many rewards for posting at Huffington Post and, well, many of the bloggers have already been compensated for what they’re doing. There are, however, many who aren’t getting fiscal compensation. So, okay, perhaps it might make sense to consider a path for (even token) compensating those who aren’t using Huffington Post as a tool to enhance their day jobs …

The reporter did a follow-up to my note:

And with the incredible success that the site has had, enabling a $315 million sale made possible by a business model based on unpaid content, do you think HuffPo should start paying its bloggers?

Hmmm … perhaps that reaction of ‘fishing for quotes to meet a predetermined story line’ fit the bill. (Though, lets be clear, there are people raising concerns and there are discussions about Huffington Post’s relationship with the unpaid bloggers — but those questions existed awhile ago.)

Thus, the additional material from me:

People publish at Huffington Post for many reasons. For many, the exposure is “the pay”. If someone is the CEO of a company or the spokesperson for a non-profit or a film producer promoting a film, does it matter to them to get a $30 payment? If someone is an impassioned activist, the “reach” is the pay.

Honestly, in cases where Huffington Post has recruited someone to post for them, it seems to make sense that they should consider some form of even nominal pay structure.

And, well, the actual article bears that out.  The title: Staff in a Huff:  Arianna’s unpaid toilers restless after site’s $315 million score.  Have to wonder if the title was already written before the first email went out seeking filler to justify it.  (Not that anyone associated with Rupert Murdoch (such as Fox News) would ever preconceive a story or massage quotes to fit the story line.)  And, again, there are Huffington Post bloggers who are questioning whether they should receive something in this $315 million deal or for their writing into the future from AOL.  From “Staff in a Huff”, two examples:

Mya Guarnieri, who contributes to HuffPost’s world section from Tel Aviv and has written for The Guardian, is having second thoughts about her work for the site.

“When it was just the HuffPo, I was happy to contribute for free because it felt like this really great, new, fresh project, like I was a part of something important. Going corporate diminishes that spirit a little bit. And I’m also aware that, as I’ve managed to develop a name for myself, I might be bringing business to AOL that they might not have had otherwise. I’m honestly not 100 percent sure how I feel about doing that for free for a corporate giant.”

Tara Dublin, an unemployed Portland-based contributor to the HuffPost’s comedy section, said that while she loves the exposure she’s gotten from HuffPost, this seems like the right time to share the spoils.

“Now that we know how much money is being spent, I do feel contributors should be paid,” she told The Daily in an e-mail. “My most recent blog was my 15th for the Huffington Post; if they’d been printed magazine articles, what would I have earned? Even $50 per blog would help out.”

Hmmm … with some 92 posts, have to agree that “even $50 per blog would help out”. I don’t know about you, but there are many things that I (or my better 95+%) could figure out how to do with $4600 … On the other hand, Patch bloggers are more accurately like local newspaper beat reporters — Huffington Post isn’t sending me out to cover local school board meetings.

Well, The Daily also chose to incorporate this perspective of yours truly. Somewhat like making it to the august (do see the laughing at oneself angle here?) HuffPost blogger ranks, felt sort of interesting to be quoted in a The Daily story in its first week …

Adam Siegel, who blogs on energy issues, said he had not been paid by HuffPost, explaining that for people like activists, or non-profit CEOs, “the exposure is ‘the pay.’”

But now, he said, “Honestly, in cases where Huffington Post has recruited someone to post for them, it seems to make sense that they should consider some form of even nominal pay structure.”

To be clear, the reporters did not misquote me.  However, it can’t be said what I sough to communicate as the emphasis on “pay” derives from their fishing expedition rather than the entirety of my (and others’) reaction to this business deal.
In any event, as the title suggests, when you know what you’re looking for, you get the story you’re looking for.
PS:  As a note to The Daily, when quoting bloggers, perhaps the style sheet should include linking to their blogs or home websites as done above (but not the original article) with Guarnieri and Dublin.  Huffington Post at least provides a link to my home site on my bio which, of course, is part of a total compensation package for posting pieces there.
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Tags: Energy