Monday 14 February 2011

Huffington Post's business model: 'Picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates'

Amazingly caustic view of AOL's $315-million acquisition of the Huffington Post by Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times who sees journalism as the big loser in the deal.

Rutten writes: "It's already clear that the merger will push more journalists more deeply into the tragically expanding low-wage sector of our increasingly brutal economy. That's a development that will hurt not only the people who gather and edit the news but also readers and viewers."

He adds: "The media-saturated environment in which we live has been called 'the information age' when, in fact, it's the data age. Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Journalism is information collected and analyzed in ways people actually can use. Though AOL and the Huffington Post claim to have staked their future on giving visitors to their sites online journalism, what they actually provide is 'content,' which is what journalism becomes when it's adulterated into a mere commodity.

"Consider first AOL's pre-merger efforts, which centered on a handful of commentators and a national network of intensely local news sites called Patch. The quality of those efforts varies widely, but the best ones are edited by journalists who lost their jobs in the layoffs and buyouts that have beset traditional news organizations over the last decade. These editor-reporters are given reasonable benefits and salaries that are about what beginning reporters at major newspapers were paid three decades ago. Their contributors, by contrast, are paid a maximum of $50 an article, often less."

Rutten says of the Huffington Post: "The bulk of the site's content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they're devoted. Most of the rest of the content is 'aggregated' — which is to say stolen — from the newspapers and television networks that pay journalists to gather and edit the news.

"The Huffington Post is a brilliantly packaged product with a particular flair for addressing the cultural and entertainment tastes of its overwhelmingly liberal audience. To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates."

Rutten's bleak conclusion is: "The fact is that AOL and the Huffington Post simply recapitulate in the new media many of the worst abuses of the old economy's industrial capitalism — the sweatshop, the speedup and piecework; huge profits for the owners; desperation, drudgery and exploitation for the workers. No child labor, yet, but if there were more page views in it…"

Via Daniel Ionescu on Twitter

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