Online citizen journalists have scorned Huffington Post boss Arianna Huffington for handing the reins of the progressive news publication over to global internet company AOL for US$315 million.
Huffington is a former political activist who co-founded the alternative publication in 2005. Earlier this month, HuffPo bloggers and writers described the deal she struck with the AOL corporation as "selling out". (See Glen Fuller’s analysis of the deal in New Matilda here.)
Before the change of hands, citizen journalists willingly contributed
content to HuffPo without payment as they believed that the site shared
and reflected their non-commercial ideals. Now, critics say that ownership by AOL — a company with a market capital of US$2.2 billion — undermines writers’ and bloggers’ ideological reasons for initially contributing content unpaid.
And they didn’t stop there. "The Huffington Post is not Arianna’s to sell," Adbusters blog posted earlier this month.
Bloggers on Adbusters issued a call to arms for citizen journalists who contributed to HuffPo before the changeover to boycott the publication and to demand to be paid: "(Huffington Post) is ours: the lefty writers and readers, environmentalism activists and anti-corporate organisers who flooded the site with 25 million visits a month. So we’re going to take it back. We’ll stop going to her site. And we’ll stop blogging for her too."
But there are contributors who are willing to allow the publication merge with AOL — so long as they get paid.
After the AOL takeover, political satirist Stephen Colbert became the first to demand he be paid for clips from his show The Colbert Report that HuffPo "aggregated" onto its website.
"I am yet to receive my percentage of the Huffbucks," he said on his show last Wednesday.
Colbert waged war on air by announcing he would post the entire content from the HuffPo website onto his new website — dubbed the Colbuffington Re-Post — until HuffPo paid him for using his show to gain internet traffic. Colbert did add that he would prefer to keep the site afloat and follow Huffington’s example by selling it off for US$315 million.
HuffPo’s citizen journalism initiatives, including Off The Bus, which covered political campaigns, have been criticised by established journalists for setting a precedent that journalistic writing need not be renumerated.
After the HuffPo/AOL deal went through, David Carr wrote in the New York Times that the issue boiled down to a "growing perception that content is a commodity, and one that can be had for the price of zero."
Some journalists have been arguing against unpaid citizen journalism for years. Executive editor of the online publication Digital Journalist Ronald Steinman summed it up nicely back in 2009: "The Huffington Post [is]a danger to the profession in its pursuit to make over journalism to fit its own philosophy of paying its contributors nothing. Free is good except if you have to earn a living."
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