The sale of the progressive blog site, Huffingtonpost.com to AOL for a reported 315 million dollars has elicited strong criticism from the left of HuffPo's founder, Arianna Huffington.
Many suggest that AOL will push HuffPo further to the right. Others say that selling to a large corporation like AOL with some right wing history is a sell-out.
A few others took advantage of the merger in different ways. Several progressive non-profit news/opinion sites took advantage of the controversial merger in their fund-raising pitches reassuring readers that they "won't sell out like HuffPo."
Some seasoned print journalists attacked the site for not paying its bloggers. One LA Times columnist's article compared the unpaid bloggers to "galley slaves," suggesting that the merger could impact the pay of professional writers.
The Huffington Post has responded to some extent with Jason Linkins' article, How The Huffington Post Works (In Case You Were Wondering) . It argues that Huffpo has many paid writers who show up at an office, write what they are assigned to write and when events develop, work long and odd hours. The article argues that bloggers, who are not paid, write what they feel like, when they want and do it knowing they are not going to be paid, that their payment is a wider reach for their ideas.
Peter S. Goodman, Huffington Post business editor wrote an article, Beyond Left And Right: It's About Reality suggesting that "Left versus Right... are overly-simplified labels that perpetuate division"
But, I was feeling frustrated. I've been a HuffPo blogger for two-plus years and have had more than 100 articles published there - all without pay. I've never taken issue with the "unpaid" status. In fact, I explained to one writer friend who suggested that HuffPo had exploited writers that I felt I had exploited HuffPo. I was using it to get my ideas out to a broader audience. Huffington Post reportedly has 25 million unique visitors a month. I enjoyed the status of being published at a site that has grown into a widely known media site. I was also able to include a link in those articles back to my site, opednews.com , thereby boosting traffic to the site. I would argue that many who blog at Huffingtonpost have been motivated by those same benefits.
My progressive community blog/news site Opednews.com is smaller than Huffington Post (about one hundredth the traffic). Still, we have about 50,000 registered members, have published more than 120,000 articles over the past 5.5 years and we have several thousand bloggers who have written, without pay, for the site. We also have about 20 volunteer editors who help keep the site running. A few individuals have complained in the past about not getting paid, though it's not a common complaint. Of course, there are others who simply won't write for the site because of this, which is an understandable choice. The vast majority, though, are motivated by the opportunity for increased visibility. In addition, OEN has on occasion served as a springboard for writers who have in turn been invited to blog at larger publications and have even obtained paid positions as a result of exposure and accomplished writing. You never know, when you put yourself out "there" where it will take you. HuffPo gives you a bigger "there" to put yourself.
Dailykos.com is another progerssive community blog site. With about one thirtieth the traffic of Huffington Post, it's owner told me Dkos employs about 8-9 paid editorial staffers, compared to about 100 the Huffpo employs. Dkos publishes about 125,000 "diaries" a year, mostly written by its close to 300,000 unpaid registered members. Other progressive sites-- talkingpointsmemo.com, alternet.org, Rawstory.com, motherjones.com, Villagevoice.com, Truthout.org, thenation.com, truthdig.com all publish far, far fewer articles, and they pay for most of their articles. Commondreams.org also publishes far less articles than the blog community sites, but it does a lot of reprinting and, to the best of my knowledge, does not pay its writers. Crooksandliars.com, firedoglake.com are also community blog sites that don't pay for most of their content. Therealnews.com, Democracynow.org and RT.com are primarily video-based news orgs with progressive slants, and they are paying their on-air talent, again, just a handful of people.
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Now, there are still those growing questions about Arianna, who first gained popularity as a conservative commentator turned progressive. Was she returning to her conservative roots? Was she selling out?
The article I wrote prior to reading the reactions of others was hopeful. I titled it, " Huffpo AOL Merger A Left-Leaning Answer to Murdoch's Fox Empire?" and included the following summary, "My gut reaction to the merger of the Huffingtonpost and AOL was and still is that it's a very good thing for the left. Arianna will now run an operation with over ten times the reach of the Huffington Post, and she's proven her lefty loyalties. Not sure about her lefty credentials? Read her book, Third World America. It spells out her stand on progressive issues beautifully.
But my optimism was not reflected by the majority of progressives. In the days following the merger, the Daily Beast reported that 81% of a random sample of 500 Huffingtonpost commenters were disappointed with the merger.
After a few days of scanning for articles and fundraising messages pegged to the merger, from progressive non-profit media sites, I still hold that the merger is a good thing. This will expand readership about tenfold, from around 25 million unique visitors a month to over 250 million worldwide. As a writer, I love the idea of my articles reaching ten times more readers.
l think those that criticize the model of not paying bloggers are missing something. When print media reigned, only a few celebrity columnists had access to readers. The majority of those who would go on to blog for Huffington Post didn't get paid for their writing before there was a Huffingtonpost. They were not in a position to reach millions of readers. Today, there are millions of unpaid bloggers on the Internet and Huffington Post gives thousands of them the opportunity to get published with astonishing reach.
Having read a growing list of articles critical of the merger, I reached out to Arianna for her reaction and in particular, asked what reassurances she may have to offer the progressive community.
"Is anyone suggesting that The Huffington Post will be any less passionate about covering unemployment, or the struggling middle class? Or the opportunity costs of Afghanistan? Or corruption and hypocrisy -- wherever we find it? Please tell me exactly what areas you think we'll be holding back on. As I've been saying for years, these issues are beyond left vs right. They are not partisan -- we all should care about them. Our focus on them will not change. Indeed, far from changing our editorial approach, our culture, or our mission, this moment will be for HuffPost like stepping off a fast-moving train and onto a supersonic jet. We're still traveling toward the same destination, with the same people at the wheel, and with the same goals, but we're now going to get there much, much faster."I'd like to think that creative, entrepreneurial progressives have the right to hope for and achieve success. The merger will enable Arianna, who has already hired over 100 journalists and editors, to hire a lot more. There is some great, hard-hitting investigative reporting on the site and I'm betting that the AOL merger will lead to them hiring more gutsy journalists. Huffington Post has hired some great experienced writers, like Tom Edsall, Dan Froomkin and Howard Fineman. I've been very impressed by some of the staff reporters. Sam Stein, Jason Linkins, Amanda Terkel and Shahien Nasiripour, in particular, have stood out for me. We can't have enough investigative reporters. Arianna should definitely hire a lot more.
Perhaps Comcast will learn from AOL. Perhaps even Fox will take a few lessons from the merger. Anything can happen. So far, Huffington Post has been good for progressives, even though it has added non-political content. I've always believed, and founded my site with the idea, that even progressives have full lives worthy of rounded media coverage -- arts, science, life, technology, business. Arianna has done it masterfully. My theory has always been that publishing non-political content would bring people to the site who would not ordinarily come, so it could help to enlighten and wake up people to progressive values and issues.
But the question keeps coming back, in the comments and the plethora of articles being written on the merger, "Will the Huffington Post shift to the center or the right, foresaking its progressive roots. The fact is, progressive values are not just good for social justice and fairness. They are good business too. Supporting them will be good for the middle class, good for small business and very well could be good for AOL's business as well. The right has tried and failed to develop a comparable site. Arianna, as a recovered conservative, is the perfect person to sell AOL on the practicality and business sense of covering the issues progressives care about.
I don't think there's an answer that's satisfying to writers who work for print media who see a new model where bloggers write without getting money. I see pluses and minuses to the new system. The Huffington Post is now a mainstream media site. To my knowledge, it is the only one that publishes the writings of thousands of bloggers. The other MSM are far more elitist, but they pay. One model gives thousands of bloggers a voice. The older model gives a handful of elite writers a living wage. They both have positives.
So, I say to progressives, don't be so quick to judge. Voice your concerns, but also encourage Huffington Post to do more of the good work that they have already done.