The Chicago Reader ran a great story yesterday on the reasons freelance writers and other professionals contribute to The Huffington Post for nothing. It's worth reading the whole piece, but there are assorted tibdits I'd like to present here as food for thought.
The story, written by Michael Miner, begins with a simple statement and is illustrative of why the face of journalism is changing, perhaps for the better in the long term, but monetarily for the worse in the short term:
If the Huffington Post is the future of journalism, I don’t believe in the future. There’s no news-oriented Web site with a higher public profile, and possibly none more entertaining to visit (if you’re a Democrat), but HuffPo doesn’t pay contributors a dime and it aggregates (some would say poaches) tons of content from media that do. That’s “not our financial model,” Ken Lerer, a HuffPo founder, once said about the old-fashioned idea of paying the people who do the work. “We offer them visibility, promotion, and distribution with a great company."
Miner goes on to profile Carol Felsenthal, who is "an old-school freelancer—she takes the assignment, does the work, and cashes the check. And yet she—like everyone else on the site—writes for HuffPo for nothing." Why?
Well, there are various answers, and none of them offer particularly encouraging thoughts. In Felsenthal's case, she writes books and covers politics, so the ability to blog, essentially, allows her not only her books but her journalistic brand in a time-effective way. Still:
The thing about doing it for nothing, says Felsenthal, is that “these profiles I’m writing for Chicago magazine—I always turn in these insanely long first drafts. What ends up running is a small fraction of what I have, so I can go back to them—I can use my outtakes in a way I never could before. It’s kind of satisfying to me.” Besides, “It’s not like I could get a job—there are no jobs. It’s not like someone would say, ‘Write a column every week and we’ll pay you.’
“It’s ridiculous that Ariana Huffington doesn’t find a way to pay people like me,” Felsenthal continues. “And you know what—she’s not going to. She doesn’t need to. What really makes the site go are the news stories put up there. There are people my daughters’ age” -- mid-20s -- “who instead of going to the New York Times site they go there and get all their opinions confirmed. The stories are all pro-Obama. They lift them from the AP or Reuters or the Times or the Washington Post.”
Ah, the lifting. The article talks about how The Huffington Post aggregates its content (from the Chicago Reader, in part, and inappropriately) and there are quotes from various sources, including Arianna Huffington herself, that attempts to justify a gratis writing model as making economic sense. She says, in fact, that they'll be "launching a fund for investigative journalists....so journalists can send us ideas about what to investigate and they will be paid for them." She doesn't disclose what the dimensions of that fund will be ("I'm going to Afghanistan to report on the Taliban next month -- they're paying me $50, plus expenses!") and quickly adds that they're "expanding" a citizen journalism project, launched during the presidential campaign, featuring some 12,000 unpaid writers and contributors
"who want to express what they’re seeing. So that’s the platform we provide -- especially if you’re young and starting out. We tell them it’s another way to get your work out there and get known, instead of submitting articles for years before you get published.”
"But get known to whom?" Miner asks. "To editors at newspapers and magazines that no longer exist?" Well, says Huffington, seemingly groping, "to book publishers...and others who have a budget much larger than ours and can pay.” Whoever that may be.
So here's the question: Would you write for The Huffington Post? I know I would. Sphere: Related Content