Let me first make the disclaimer that I know great people who work with HuffPo, who have done really good work there. I've even celebrated some of that work in print over at the Columbia Journalism Review. Nonetheless, let me break down the reasons behind my five-years-plus boycott of the site as both a reader and writer.
They make an enormous profit off of unpaid writers, as was revealed when AOL bought them in 2011. (Yes, some people at HuffPo are paid, but the bulk of their content doesn't come from them.) For a profitable company to standardize this system raises my ire. The utter disrespect they have for writers was revealed when one of their unpaid writers broke the story when President Obama, during the 2008 campaign, made a comment about rural people "clinging to guns and religion." HuffPo thought enough of that story to nominate it for a Pulitzer Prize. They didn't get it, but the blogger reasonably took this as an opportunity to ask to be paid for her work: she steadily covered electoral politics in a consistent and ethical way for them--real reporting, not commentary. They gave her the run-around for at least a year or so on that question, during which the writer continued to give them free stories, before she got frustrated and quit, with a public letter about why. Later, when asked for comment, The Huffington Post's spokesman said coldly: "Mayhill Fowler says that she is 'resigning' from the Huffington Post. How do you resign from a job you never had?"
Not paying writers, while profiting from their
work, isn't just insulting, it produces -- surprise! -- worse content.
It underscores that good journalism, or good commentary, is not the
purpose of the site. (The opportunism of the site is echoed in Arianna Huffington's own trajectory: she was, not long ago, a staunch and popular conservative before founding this supposedly progressive site.)
Hence, Huffington Post's famous role in aggregating the stories that paid writers produce at newspapers and magazines -- all the while mocking those "old media" outlets for being out of touch with the internet. The site takes advantage of the work of these "old-school reporters" -- also known as "reporters" -- in a manner that amounts to another way of profiting from work it won't pay for. As this good editorial in The New Republic notes, aggregation isn't inherently evil, and can be a lot of fun. (Hell, I do it here at Isak with the Literary & Media Indulgences.) But when it comes with relatively small investment in original work, and a decidedly un-generous attitude towards the publications it depends upon, it reveals a skewed sense of priorities at HuffPo.
Hence, those sleazy gossipy stories that make up so much of the site, serving as nothing but linkbait, thickened with more search engine optimization than facts.
Hence, all those articles by people who aren't paid by HuffPo, but are paid by someone else -- and are basically just promoting their product, or nonprofit, or business. A lot of press releases are in the stew over there.
Hence, the wealth of well-meaning but un-edited stories that just aren't that good.
Notably, even if a free blogger is very good, they usually don't even get the "exposure" that HuffPo promises them, presuming it is valuable enough that it will pay the blogger's rent. Stories that aren't featured on the homepage are rarely seen, as HuffPo readers don't read particularly deep into the site (a trend directly related to the site's thin content). Those stories by free bloggers are typically viewed by direct links that the blogger herself shares around.
For what it's worth, I'm not anti-internet journalism, or even anti-writing-for-free. I do both of those myself everyday, though on the latter, I am very selective. I write for free on Isak, of course (though, ahem, donations are welcome! See the 'support Isak' box in the middle column to the right). It's been a saving grace for me for seven years. I occasionally freely write for outlets that I admire, that treat writers well, are non-profit, and will allow me to do a story I can't do anywhere else. I wrote, for example, my long story on the African Writers' Series for the Los Angeles Review of Books for free, and my piece on Muriel Rukeyser and the re-discovery of literature by women writers for free. I really wanted to do these stories, I like these magazines, and so I went for it.
- "Is the Huffington Post Ruining Journalism?" - The New Republic
- "Why I Left the Huffington Post" - Mayhill Fowler
- "What's Wrong With the Huffington Post" - National Writers Union
- "The Huffington Post Rubs People the Wrong Way at the Republican National Convention" - National Writers Union
- "AOL? HuffPo. The Loser? Journalism." - Los Angeles Times