The sale of The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million is a sad milestone for media in the internet age. TruthDig columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges grinds down to the point that makes this so painful for journalists.

Any business owner who uses largely unpaid labor, with a handful of underpaid, nonunion employees, to build a company that is sold for a few hundred million dollars, no matter how he or she is introduced to you on the television screen, is not a liberal or a progressive. Those who take advantage of workers, whatever their outward ideological veneer, to make profits of that magnitude are charter members of the exploitative class. Dust off your Karl Marx. They are the enemies of working men and women. And they are also, in this case, sucking the lifeblood out of a trade I care deeply about. It was bad enough that Huffington used her site for flagrant self-promotion, although the cult of the self has reached such dizzying proportions in American society that such behavior is almost expected. But there is an even sadder irony that this was carried out in the name of journalism.

[…] The argument made to defend this exploitation is that the writers had a choice. It is an argument I also heard made by the managers of sweatshops in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, the coal companies in West Virginia or Kentucky and huge poultry farms in Maine. It is the argument made by the comfortable, by those who do not know what it is to be hard up, desperate or driven by a passion to express one’s self and the world through journalism or art. It is the argument the wealthy elite, who have cemented in place an oligarchic system under which there are no real choices, use to justify their oppression.

Read the whole story on Truthdig.

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  1. People work for free to feed their egos. Comparing journalists to sweat shop workers kind stretches it for me. The sad thing is all of the state and federal taxes that would have been paid if these “exploited” workers had received a paycheck. I’d like to see how much Federal income tax she pays on this sale.
    I’m going back to school to be a teacher because I have no inclination what so ever to work for free. There certainly are choices if you don’t let vanity get in the way.

    • Is Arianna still going to run Huffingtonpost once it is sold? I visit the blog daily, and to me, it’s no longer worth reading if she is not at the helm. I started reading HuffPo for the people that she brought together in conversation. That’s why it puzzles me why the author of the above article says she used the site for her own self promotion- well- yes- of course she did. That was the point- I visited her site to see her point of view and the points of view of the people she asked to create content.

      Onto the subject of content: Huff Po’s bloggers are usually actors, directors, authors, politicians and activists. If someone like Michael Moore contributes, does it really pain him to not get paid? Probably not. He’s building the Michael Moore brand. And a brand he is. Most of the people that write for HuffPo have a book or film to plug. It’s a win-win for both parties involved. And it’s also a win for me as a reader because I get my news the way I want it. Filtered through her filter.

      HuffPo was a model that might not have worked. It might have failed miserably. Instead it did amazingly well, was inventive, and that- in turn- can bring in big profits.

      • @Erica Chadwick,
        I meant to post, not to reply. I am not sure why my comment ended up under yours Scott. Sorry!

  2. The HuffPo story is certainly telling about the stresses of market vs. content creators.

    Specifically this defense of the HuffPo published by one of their political reports speaks volumes:

    As many companies grow they risk geting off track from their ideals that made them successful in the first place. It takes a strong and effective leader to keep things on track. Sadly this may have been missing here.

    HuffPo was known for it’s blog content, not for it’s use of other news feeds that could be consumed many other places already in place.

  3. yes very applicable to editorial photography. especially fashion.

    you seem to be on fire right now with great posts!

    • @just some dude,

      yes no-one wants to just test for their book anymore. Everyone wants to work for free for ‘Editorial Submissions’… All rather sad really..
      The Huffo is just one publication running on ‘free’, there are a lot a lot a lot!

  4. Please. They chose to work for free. What did they think she was going to do?

    • @ggw, there is a difference between evil and corrupt. A person is evil when they purposefully set out to harm other people who have done them no harm. A person is corrupt when they are not what they appear to be, especially when they purposefully try to make other people think they are what they appear to be. Huffington is not evil: she is “merely” corrupt.

      • @MarcWPhoto, is there a difference? How is corruption not, in fact, evil? Even if you’re unwilling to admit that it is, it’s certainly on the downward slope. I’d let the textbook definition of both speak for themselves.

  5. @ggw: Agreeing to provide content for free does not mean that content is free of value, or that all the providers of this content are in it purely for the ego. Don’t make the mistake to generalize everyone’s intentions.

    Maybe they did it because they believed in the cause, and with the implicit understanding of how HuffPo was working. Once it was sold to AOL and became a mainstream for-profit media outlet, that changes the formula and left those that supported a cause betrayed. Hence the current discussion.

    Read Seth Godin’s recent posts about favors vs. gifts. It sets the proper framework on how to think about this.

  6. It’s a bit like the frog in the slowly boiling pot of water. The blogs start out as small operations with “no budget”, and then grow and grow until they are money making ventures with tremendous influence.

    One difficult situation about being an independent worker is that when you get locked into a certain fee (or free) it is very hard to up it. Anyone have successful tactics for doing this?

  7. Please , protect these people from themselves.

  8. I just sent an e-mail to the Huffington Post asking Arianna to share some of the $315 million. I’ll let you know if I get a response.

  9. The man (Chris Hedges) has a point. Regardless of what the people who contributed to HuffPo without being compensated hoped to gain from it, the fact is Ms. Huffington founded a news aggregation & editorial site on the premise of being a liberal-progressive with liberal-progressive values.

    Building a media empire on the backs of unpaid contributors (I don’t care who they are) and then selling that empire for $315 million for one’s own personal gain is hardly an expression of liberal-progressive values. As Hedges says, it’s exploitative. It plunks Ms. Huffington square in the ranks of the exploitative class.

    Now if she turns around and uses all, or even most of that $315 million to underwrite philanthropic ventures and/or non-profits that uphold liberal-progressive values, or she uses it to start-up another liberal-progressive news organization that actually pays its employees and contributors reasonable salaries/stipends, then we (I) will have to eat crow…

    • @Cynthia Wood, Oh so AH is a closet conservative that likes outing liberals. I do have to say she has gone beyond the boundaries of good taste. Based on the taste she has left in the mouths of those who were contributors it is quite bitter like the flavor of a Bernard Made-off.

      The reality is, she was very shrewed. I just wonder if she is foreseeing a crash like the dot Com’s.

      For those who “CHOSE” to provide with the “HOPE” of being a compensated employee it was a risky choice to make. Again comes the made-off flavor.

  10. Back in the day when I worked as an editor for a chain of suburban newspapers, we had a bunch of amateur reporters we called stringers who reported on goings-on in various far-flung suburban communities. Many did this for love of community, or to see their name in print, to make a difference, to build a clip file, or just to have something to do I guess and maybe have some access to officialdom that the run-of-the-mill citizen doesn’t get. Many of these stringers were willing to work for nothing. Bloggers or citizen journalists before their time. It wasn’t ideal. I felt a little clammy about taking work from people without paying for it, but the company wasn’t going to give me a budget for it and the people were willing enough to do it (for one or more of the reasons cited above, I assume). Unlike HuffPo the company I worked for didn’t get a rich buy-out. Had there been a rich buy-out, I doubt the stringers would have been given checks though. They had their own reasons for doing what they did. What the hell, I was hardly getting rich myself. Anyway, I hope that journalism comes back around to where it’s a paying proposition for more of the people who practice it. I can’t fault HuffPo for doing what they did, they had a business model and rode with it. You gets what you pay for, or in this case you even get what you don’t pay for I guess.

  11. Not that I’m inferring any knowledge of the motivations of people who worked for HuffPo…

  12. This is the deal. HuffPo has been sold to a company which has the content farm as its business model. Not a blog, not an online news magazine, not a publication. A content farm. That’s what it’s called.

    I am not sure what’s going to end this. It’s not like I can send back my subscription but I can stop visiting. After all, it’s just a farm. Maybe I can just grow my own.

  13. Sometimes I think back to my high school days when we all had to study math, chemistry, biology and physics for 3 years. I feel strongly that a good grasp of Business and/or Tax knowledge would have served me so much better than taking ALL of the compulsory sciences.
    Whatever work we do, photography, writing, etc can we see the value in learning to negotiate our position better than having no position? Being an entrepreneur is simply part of the job, seems to me, unless you want to give all your power away.
    I also think and I have not read this anywhere else myself yet but surely the sale of Huff for such a colossal sum of dollars, should invigorate many of the journalists who contributed to making Huff worth so much. Can it be such a challenge now to band together and start your own entity and use the status you have earned by helping Huff to your own advantage? I can see the headline now, ” Star Journalists Who Make Huff Worth Millions Start Their Own National Collective”.

    Go for it I say!
    And I don’t even want anything for the idea…..

    With Thanx,

  14. as an editor, if i had access to all this valuable content for free… i am pretty sure i wouldn’t pay either. however, to operate under the guise of a liberal-progressive and then sell-out completely is unforgivable.

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