Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Arianna escalating her wage-less empire

By J. Thomas Duffy

Oh boy, I have to speculate the AOL purchase of The Huffington Post is going to be a bonanza of great fodder for weeks/months/years to come.

The World Wide Web is still buzzing with some great stuff from multiple angles.


First off, in the "Told-You-So" Department, Greg Sargent at The Plum Line has the scoop on Arianna's plans to continue not to pay her writers, and it's called "Citizen Journalism":

Arianna Huffington is planning to use AOL's infrastructure to launch a major expansion of citizen journalism in advance of the 2012 presidential campaign, she tells me in an interview, sharing new details about her vision of expanded political coverage in the wake of the merger with AOL.

Huffington described her plan as "Jeffersonian," and she says she plans to use AOL's Web site Patch.com, a network of sites that cover local news at the granular level, as a vehicle for expansion modeled on HuffingtonPost's 2008 "Off the Bus" coverage. "Off the Bus" made a splash when candidate Barack Obama was caught on tape suggesting that economically distressed voters are "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion," and if Huffington has her way, she will oversee a massive increase in such coverage next year.

"We are going to dramatically accelerate this in 2012," said Huffington, who discussed the idea on a conference call yesterday with Patch.com employees. "We will have thousands and thousands of people covering the election. Covering the Repulicans. Covering the Democrats. Just being transparent about it."

Huffington -- who said high-level editorial staffing decisions were still being worked out -- also provided the first clear glimpse of her plan to graft the HuffPo vision on to the AOL infrastructure. "Patch already has professional editors," she said, adding that freelancers across the country would work with those editors "the way that the Huffington Post pairs young reporters with established editors. It's something we can also do at the local level."

[snip]

The expansion of citizen journalism seems likely to expand the current model by which a massive amount of content is generated by unpaid freelancers who are looking to get their voices heard. If she gets her way, the site's current identity won't change, preserving the site's community feel but expanding it in new directions.

"The first thing I said about Huffington Post is that I don't want to talk to the choir," she said. "I wanted to use this platform to inform millions of people. Now that can be dramatically accelerated."

Cute, throwing in the "Jeffersonian" thing.

From Wikipedia:

The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, acquired and sold hundreds of slaves throughout his lifetime. Jefferson first acquired slaves through his father's inheritance and by his marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton. According to one historian, Jefferson remained silent and did nothing to challenge slavery after the Revolutionary War era, America's most urgent and pressing social problem. Jefferson's lavish spending left him in debt, and all but one of Jefferson's slaves that remained were sold after his death to pay his debts. Jefferson today remains a complicated American icon and his writings and behavior on slavery are full of contradictions. Jefferson, master of Monticello, relied heavily on slavery to support himself and his family's luxurious lifestyle.


Slaves ... freelancers ... and, coming, "Citizen Journalism."

Brilliant!

It certainly is "Jeffersonian."

"It’s like Friendster buying Facebook."

Meanwhile, it appears a majority of Huffpo-ers are despondent, feeling like Arianna sold them out.

From Howie Kurtz:

From this large sample, a whopping 81 percent (405) opposed the acquisition in terms that ranged from confused to pessimistic to, most frequently, downright livid. Only 19 percent (95) were optimistic, though many of those were far closer to neutral.

"We made HuffPost and we are being abandoned," one aggrieved reader wrote. "They will aim for the center. That's where the big money is." Another added: "Corporate greed and intelligent analysis don't merge." Others couldn't even bear to read the news: "I have no interest reading about yet another monopoly creation and the slow erosion of diversity in terms of news sources."

Within hours after the merger was announced, Huffington Post readers had even made a game of one-upping each other with metaphors that conveyed the depth of their despair about the sale. "This feels like walking into my credit union only to find out it was bought by Bank of America," one said. "[It's] like Carol Channing taking over for Fergie in the Black Eyed Peas. Legendary, but past the expiration date by about 10 years," another lamented. A user with the tech analogy might have been the closest to the broader sentiment: "It's like Friendster buying Facebook." 

Dana Milbank pulls back the curtain on the revolving door of Ariana's ideology:

"It's time for all of us in journalism to move beyond left and right," Huffington said Monday on PBS's "NewsHour." "Truly, it is an obsolete way of looking at the problems America is facing."

That is almost exactly what Huffington said in 2000 when she was making her last ideological transformation, from a conservative Republican into a liberal icon. "The old distinctions of right and left, Democrat, Republican, are pretty obsolete," she told Fox News then.

It's a stock line for Huffington, but if she and Armstrong are taken at their word, they are planning a radical reshaping of what had become an important voice for liberalism and a gleeful participant in the left-right game. "It can no longer be denied: the right-wing lunatics are running the Republican asylum and have infected the entire country and poisoned the world beyond," Huffington wrote in her 2008 book, "Right is Wrong ."

[snip]

I say this with admiration. Huffington deserves every one of those millions she'll be paid by AOL for creating this online sensation. She was once derided as "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus" because of her many well-connected friends, but Huffington has earned her place as one of the extraordinary personalities of our time: an entrepreneur and writer who is always chasing the next big idea, wherever it is on the ideological spectrum.

Yet this is also why Huffington and her Web site are unlikely to remain as they were. Anybody who expects her to continue as a reliable voice of the left is a poor student of Huffington history.

[snip]

But in the late 1990s, Huffington began to reinvent herself. She covered the '96 political conventions for Comedy Central with Al Franken. She broke with Gingrich. She disparaged Bob Dole. She promoted Warren Beatty for president. She published a book favoring campaign finance reform. In 2000, she hosted a "shadow convention" protesting both parties.

She later explained the "transformation" of her political views by saying the right had "seduced, fooled, blinded, bamboozled" her.

That's crazy talk. Nobody bamboozles Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. If anybody was fooled, it was those who believed she would be a more enduring progressive than she was a conservative.


Phew!

That's a whirlwind of changes.

But, as has been noted before, and what we offered up above, one change that won't occur is Arianna paying her writers.

Can't wait for all those "Citizen Journalist" posts in 2012 about all the funny signs and costumes at the Conventions, and tweets about "Where's the best place to eat?" and "I missed the Press Bus, can anyone give me a ride?"


Bonus Riffs







Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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