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October 06, 2009


So, I agree that companies should pay their employees, don't get me wrong, but I one of my professors starting blogging for Huffington Post, and as a result, he has been offered speaking gigs all over the world, he appeared on John Stewart, and he claims it is because of his "stupid blog." It is sort of like arguing that we should not shop at Whole Foods and Starbucks because their employees cannot unionize when they treat their employees well, so it wuold be dumb to unionize (disclaimer: when I worked for Safeway, I refused to join the Union, I tend to think they suck in modern times, though had a VERY, VERY important part of our past). So, just something to consider; paying people in cash may not be the only way to pay people for their work. It's a new world.

The trouble is, The Huffington Post ITSELF is not taking any responsibility for compensating its writers; rather, it depends on the public (The Daily Show, people who need speakers at their events, etc.) to make it worth the writer's while. Cash or no, the HuffPo will in no way pay people directly for their work. That's a very destructive model to set, basically saying: 'Work for us free, we'll profit off your work, we won't pay you even when we can afford to, and you may effectively raise your own public profile ... or you may not. No promises.'

I'm bothered by this from the writer's perspective, of course--the number of places that expect writers to work for free is numbing and hostile to any person's ambition to actually make a living wage as a writer.

But even as a business model, this really isn't sustainable. For a supposedly "progressive" site, it means that only the folks who can afford to work for free will do so, "meaning that we’ll increasingly be hearing from the idle rich almost exclusively." (to quote C. Max Magee) HuffPo's are undercutting their purported mission, at best, and suffocating the possibility of hosting excellent viewpoints that come from varied perspectives. They make an echo chamber of themselves.

The no-pay model also sets a precedent for writing and journalism that's less about good, honest, insightful content for the content's sake, and more about personal "brand-building."

There's nothing wrong with "brand-building" per se, but when the HuffPo goes around promoting itself as a "new model for new media" (as it does all the freaking time, with LOTS of people buying into it), and when the HuffPo sniffs at "old fashioned" media that actually pays the people who generate their content and puts resources behind investigative journalism, then something more dangerous is happening.

If the HuffPo becomes THE model for journalism, not just writers, but the truth-loving public looking for credible news is in serious trouble ... and of course journalism's role as a "fourth branch of government" is considerably weakened. It becomes all about the commentary, and not about the facts.

That's not a new world I'm looking forward to.

For conversation's sake, here's a HuffPo writer on how she thinks the site can pay its writers: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-haimoff/how-the-huffington-post-c_b_231719.html

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