Monday, February 07, 2011

Huffington Toast?


I've done a couple of phone interviews today and of course fielded a metric ton of e-mail looking for my reaction to the AOL-Huffington Post merger announced with great fanfare this morning.

To listen to Arianna explain it, the purchase of HuffPo by a company that's struggling for an ounce of cultural and technological relevance will align the new media stars; to listen to the reaction of the HuffPo peanut gallery, AOL will be nothing but an albatross around the neck of the site, watering it down politically until it's drowned altogether. The fear is that AOL, which almost since its inception has represented the doof-proof path of least resistance to the internet, will systematically crush the independent spirit of the Huffington Post under an avalanche of cookie-cutter banality. There are commenters already lamenting the fact that Arianna "sold out." News flash: If you think that, you seriously need to pull your head out of the clouds. Arianna Huffington has always been one thing above all else: a businesswoman. And her business just hit the jackpot to the tune of 315-million dollars. It's spectacular news for her and even better news for Roy Sekoff -- who's the unsung hero at HuffPo and an all-around terrific guy -- but what AOL's mothership status means for the future of the left and center-left's only real internet powerhouse is anyone's guess.

In a memo this morning that I have to assume went out to all the HuffPo contributors, Arianna talked about how the input of those who helped to make the site what it is today -- what made it worth this multi-million dollar buyout -- will continue to be valued as the new mega-media venture begins. For the moment anyway, we have no choice but to take her at her word; after all, she's apparently been doing something right all this time.

Of course given AOL's track record when it comes to mergers, this whole debate could be academic anyway. And the really big question still remains: Will Arianna's stable of bloggers continue to line up knowing that they're writing for a corporate media behemoth like AOL -- and that while they're working for free, Arianna just saw a 315-million dollar payday?

We'll see.

(On a personal note, I'll continue to contribute to HuffPo for a number of reasons -- my respect and admiration for both Arianna and Roy Sekoff being one and the fact that I cross-post my material here, often submitting it to Huffington as an afterthought, being another. But given my history, look for whatever I contribute from here on out to be decried by the HuffPo regulars as being the product of AOL's conservative puppet-mastery. Should be entertaining. Oh, and someone pointed out this little bit of irony today: The company that was once part of the company that fired me for blogging is now the owner of the site that I was blogging for when I got fired. And the circle of life continues.)

(Adding: Great quote from Gawker's legendarily idiosyncratic CEO Nick Denton -- who just became the last man standing in the independent media empire game -- on the AOL-HuffPo deal. As expected, he's appropriately barbed: "I’m disappointed in the Huffington Post. I thought Arianna Huffington and Kenny Lerer were reinventing news, rather than simply flipping to a flailing conglomerate. AOL has gathered so many of our rivals -- Huffington Post, Engadget, Techcrunch -- in one place. The question: Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?" No one can ever claim Denton minces words.)

15 comments:

QueBarbara said...

So, she made 315-million. What did all of her contributors get?

Alanna said...

I thought her contributors were paid. wow. It's not like you're interning here. That's insane.

Chez said...

There's a difference between the writers and the bloggers, but, well...

CNNfan said...

Arianna Huffington said, "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"

Arianna admits its a train wreck SPLAT!!! for the same people at the wheel. A super sonic jet doesn't have a wheel. It has a joystick traveling at the speed of sound!








___________________________________________
Joke.

TheReaperD said...

When I read the news this morning, I have to admit, my immediate response was "aw f**k". Can we keep anything of intellectual value away from these stifling soulless corporate behemoths?! They have a habit of taking over something that makes you think and hopefully convinces you to make your own decisions and turning it into trite fear-mongering and/or mindless canned entertainment while using it as a vehicle to shovel semi-subliminal advertisements down your throat.

I'm really hoping that you're right about the two of them. But, my money is on that they saw a big payday and decided that selling us out was more than worth it. To be fair, a vast majority of us would have a hard time walking away from that much money, even me. Everyone has their price. If I'm correct, this will deal a huge short term blow for centrist and liberal online media. I hope I'm not.

Anonymous said...

I can tell that you've already been beaten down by "the man".

Chez said...

Yes. As you can tell my submission to his will has paid huge dividends.

Anonymous said...

It's back to the future Chezzy Boy! AOL took care of you before and they're back to help you out again. You just can't get away from them. They love you too much-LOL! Ah, life is strange, eh?

CNNfan said...

Dang! I just discovered I can't get a million bucks to fit in your tip jar.

Anonymous said...

Oh no...please tell me they will publish "science" articles that are still pro-intelligent design, pro-homeopathy, and other moronic shit.

Deborah said...

Bee fucking ESS. She's a sellout. Accent and all, she's a capitalist whore. And I'd love ta be her.

Michael J. West said...

Gotta say - as a freelance writer, this pisses me off mightily.

Because this is the model we're headed toward - editors and site owners insisting that they can't afford to pay their writers, instead taking the attitude of "You should be happy we're giving you a forum!" Then they take that content they got for free and sell it for, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars.

And make no mistake, that's what this is about. Not only that you bloggers are working for free while Arianna got a shit-ton of cash, but that she got a shit-ton of cash selling YOUR WORK.

Think about it this way --- writing for free is tantamount to expressing a belief that your writing is not worth anything. Which is fine, I suppose...but what happens when someone like Arianna delivers to you irrefutable, absolute proof that your writing is worth a hell of a lot?

Chez said...

I had a discussion quite a while back with Chuck Klosterman and he made a point about the "new model" of writing and journalism that I've never been able to argue with. He said that whether you like it or not, people place a value on a product based on what they're paying for it; in other words, because bloggers do what they do generally for free, people have the false impression that it's worthless, that anyone can do it. He also made the point that bloggers, sometimes misguidedly, have come to believe that the old model still exists in some fashion and that means there's still a huge value on exposure. There is, believe me, but it's true that a lot of struggling writers cranking out material for HuffPo will never see any kind of return for it -- at least not in the long-term sense. For me it's really not the biggest deal in the world because, like I said, I cross-post my material so it was going to get done anyway; but obviously, yeah, it'd be nice to get paid for it beyond the very kind donations I get to this site.

Arianna has doubled down on the new model and made it work for her in spades. The problem, of course, is that the contributors continue to line up because the exposure is so tremendous (and because there really are occasional perks to writing for Huffington). As I told someone else today, though, Michael -- you're not the first person to express indignation at the inequity of the situation and you certainly won't be the last.

By the way, it's not as if I'm exposing state secrets here when it comes to talking about a publication I write for; this stuff is pretty well documented by now.

Michael J. West said...

I'll grant you all that, Chez. And if people believe that they make back in exposure what they sacrifice in cash-in-hand compensation, then God bless 'em.

What I worry about is that they're setting the precedent and expectation that will start to apply to all of us. Harlan Ellison tells a story of getting a call about using his work in a project and the caller being *stunned* to hear that he expected to be paid for it (and telling him - guess what? - that the exposure he'd get was worth more than a check).

In short, I don't write for HuffPo and have no immediate plans to - but I suspect this will affect me anyway.

Chez said...

It already has, Michael -- even if you don't know it yet.