Sorry, Ariana and Markos, No More Free Content For You

(3 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I know all too much about writing for free.  I do it here all the time. It’s a labor of love.  I’ve been at it for more than 900 blog posts and more than 5 years.  I know about writing without being paid for it.  Despite that, and despite my understanding that when I post at group blogs I know I won’t get paid, I am absolutely furious about the AOL-Huffington Post Deal.  Why?  Because the writers are getting screwed, and they’re not going to get a cent out of the deal. Not a sou.

The news this morning–  I’m sure you haven’t missed it–  was that that beleaguered, dinosaur of dial up AOL has bought Huffington Post and made that doyenne of self promotion and faux progressive politics, Arianna, an AOL executive.  Here’s the essence of the story from the New York Times:

The two companies completed the sale Sunday evening and announced the deal just after midnight on Monday. AOL will pay $315 million, $300 million of it in cash and the rest in stock. It will be the company’s largest acquisition since it was separated from Time Warner in 2009.

The deal will allow AOL to greatly expand its news gathering and original content creation, areas that its chief executive, Tim Armstrong, views as vital to reversing a decade-long decline.

Arianna Huffington, the cable talk show pundit, author and doyenne of the political left, will take control of all of AOL’s editorial content as president and editor in chief of a newly created Huffington Post Media Group. The arrangement will give her oversight not only of AOL’s national, local and financial news operations, but also of the company’s other media enterprises like MapQuest and Moviefone.

Meanwhile, the bloggers at HuffPo, the ones who provide the “original content creation”, that was just sold for $315,000,000.00 get, wait for it, nothing.  Zilch. Nada. Zero.  And in an email this morning to bloggers, Ariana told them not to worry, no te preocupes, they could still churn out “original content creation”,  just like before, and well, continue to get the same nothing for it:

The HuffPost blog team will continue to operate as it always has. Arianna will become editor-in-chief not only of HuffPost but of the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all of AOL’s content sites, including Patch, Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, PopEater, MapQuest, Black Voices, and Moviefone.

Together, our companies will have a combined base of 117 million unique U.S. visitors a month — and 250 million around the world — so your posts will have an even bigger impact on the national and global conversation. That’s the only real change you’ll notice — more people reading what you wrote.

Far from changing the Huffington Post’s editorial approach, our culture, or our mission, it will be 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, and with the same goals, but we’re now going to get there much, much faster.

When I first read this, I was furious.  I quickly penned an essay, which I published at dailyKos in which I argued that the bloggers, the writers at HuffPo were being screwed because they weren’t getting a cent out of the $315 million dollar deal.

To my amazement, many of the comments to that essay told me that I was off base.  Did I write for free and publish my writing at daily Kos?  Yes. Didn’t I do that because it would expose me to a wide audience?  Yes.  Didn’t I write it all for free, without hope of money?  Yes.  Didn’t I?  I did.  What kind of loon (I’m paraphrasing here) would think that he should write hundreds of diaries for free and that when the platform was sold, he should receive something?  You’ve already received something, it was argued, you got the exposure and a larger audience for your writing.  You don’t, it was argued, deserve anything more.  You get bupkis from the $315 million deal; you don’t deserve more than that.

That just may be so.  I never posted an essay or a comment at HuffPo.  So I don’t deserve any of the $315,000,000 Ariana and her investors are being paid.  I figure that if Ariana put 1% of the deal up and gave it to the writers, there would be $3.15 million to distribute.  How many writers could there be?  If there were 1,000, they could each be given $3,150.  They could be told, “Thank you for writing for free.  Because your writing helped me make a bundle, I’ve decided to send you this small check as a token of my appreciation.  Your writing is worth far more than this amount, but this is something I want you to have as a token of my gratitude.  It’s not pay.  It’s a gift.  You helped me make a big score, and I want to thank you for that.”

MSNBC is reporting that HuffPo had 6,000 free bloggers writing for it (last sentence of linked article).  If that’s so, the 1% gratuity would come to about $500 per person.  And the number of people who wrote so that Ariana could be well paid would be enormouse.  

At any rate, you’d expect some acknowledgment of the bloggers and writers.  You wouldn’t expect anything less from a progressive.  When somebody at the race track gives you a tip, and you bet the horse, and it wins, you always give the tipper some of the winning.  When a football quarterback wins a big game, he takes the linemen out to dinner and drinks.  You have gratitude for those who make it possible to win.  When someone in business helps you out and you have gratitude, you send flowers or wine or a fruit basket.  Or you pay for a meal.  These are expressions of gratitude for help.  They are always appreciated, especially if your original deal was that you wouldn’t be paid.

Is Ariana going to get out her check book and write a check, or is she going to sit on it?  Probably the latter.  So I won’t be signing up to write at HuffPo at any time soon.  And I’ll support Al Giordano and others who have decided to take down their writing from the site.

Which brings me to Markos and dailyKos.  I have loved writing for dailyKos over the years.  But if today’s events tell me anything, it’s that dailyKos might well be the next group web site to be sold for hundreds of millions of dollars.  And it’s the same as HuffPo in this:  there are many, many talented people writing diaries there.  There is some brilliant writing.  That writing is the value of the site.  And that writing is being given to the site and its readership for free.  And when the site is ultimately acquired by the capitalists with the big check books and they write Markos a gigantic check, what then?  Same story, different day.  I’ll be told that I agreed to write for free, that I had a large audience, and that is all.  I got what I deserve; I will get nothing more. Things will be the same with the new corporate master.   Why, I wonder, should I or anyone else contribute our writing, increase the value of the site, and then, poof, have it be sold while we receive nothing?

As America’s former poet laureate tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  So, no, I’m done.  I will not be moving to DK4 when the site changes over this week.  I will not be publishing any further diaries at dailyKos.  I am not willing to continue to provide value to dailyKos that will eventually be sold without any payment of any kind to me.  No.  I’m done.  I’ll stick to my blog and to the Writers Port Alliance.  You can join me there or at the other Writers Port Alliance sites (all listed at the top of this blog) .

cross posted from The Dream Antilles  


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  1. The specter of valuing our writing.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Edger on February 8, 2011 at 03:59

    It’s always cost me money to blog, whether in outright costs of maintaining a site or in lack of income from all the time spent blogging.

    But HuffPo does link to Antemedius fairly regularly – so I get my little piece of Arianna’s 300 mil that way, I guess. 😉

  2. Did not get his survialist 35 thousand dollar windmill because energy independence is frowned upon.

    Much like yours or my insignificant internet voices might reach five or ten people who give a crap amidst the din of 900 higly dense channels of for profit Satanically approved subliminals of dis/how to think info-propo-tainment.  I am using literary German language new age convention here in making up words.

    Basically it’s more about shoving their shit into you rather than allowing you to stand on your milk crate.

  3. Not for anything that I actually wrote – that’s probably not worth more than $0.27, by my reckoning – but rather for all the abuse that I took.

    If you figure $567,000 for all of my pain and suffering, and then factor in triple damages, it comes out to a cool $1.7 million dollars. I’m very sensitive in real life, so $567,000 is a fair assessment. Some people were very mean to me. The rest is simple math.

    More seriously, there’s an intriguing diary at correntewire suggesting that Chris Bowers will be paid a percentage of user contributions to dailykos. I frankly don’t understand what this apparent speculation (there’s no reference for the claim) has to do with the Democratic convention, but lambert appears to know something that he doesn’t explain at all well in his (short) diary.

    • Wom Bat on February 8, 2011 at 20:20

    I have a tough time visualizing anybody paying $315,000,000 for DK. But who knows? The idea of free contributions seems a lot more sensible here than there, for sure. They have so many BS rules it pretty much lets the air out for me. Says it’s “a Democratic blog.” So no matter how disgracefully full of betrayal Obama gets, they have his back. Maybe the DNC will spring for the place and Kos will land in clover.

  4. I put this essay up at dailyKos.  It got nearlhy 300 comments (none from me).  It is worth a stroll through the comments so you can see some of the arrogance, incredible nastiness, and misunderstanding.  I still think that a lot of commenters at dK are paid by conservative groups to sow discontent and provoke pie fights.  Enjoy.

  5. People should leave these places in droves, but most likely they won’t.  

  6. Associated Content-made $8 over time. Which probably worked out to $2/hour or so, since I actually researched the subject, but that’s better than nothing.

    The trend though is that musicians should make records for free, writers should work for free, editors should work for free (ie wiki), and so on- only the big media companies like AOL will make money.    

  7. and, well, some disagreement …


    When I was queried by reporters about HuffPost and this issue, my first point:

    In terms of progressive voices in America, this is a tremendous signal. AOL has decided to commit serious funds (that $320 million) to buy Huffington Post, which is a progressive online media site. What does that say, writ large, to the nation about the commercial value of progressive commentary?

    And, in my ‘domain’, I would say that a very good share of the ‘green’ items on HuffPost are people who have day jobs where they are promoting their issue / their point of view via HuffPost’s reach.

    Thus, if there are 250 “green’ bloggers out of the 6000 (I don’t know how many), I would surmise that 150+ are paid for that blogging as part of their ‘day job’ or equivalent …

    Yet … yet … what a signal it would have been for Ariana to, as you suggest, put aside 1% to be distributed to bloggers who helped make the site so popular.  And, it would have increased likelihood of those bloggers transitioning to AOL HuffPost (with an expectation of pay?).

    Now, when it comes to DKos, Markos is clearly making a (good) living and the tremendous strength of the writing is key to that. On the other hand, the ‘give back’ is clearer (Fellowships, efforts to help campaigns, work to get good polling, etc …) and Markos really does (imo) keep the promotion of all his other activities / passions (how prominent is biking or sports blogging or … at Dkos?) to a minimum.

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