Chris Hedges Slams HuffPo

One wonders what AOL will do with HuffPo (or rather, vice versa) in the future:

The sale of The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million, and the tidy profit of reportedly at least several million dollars made by principal owner and founder Arianna Huffington, who was already rich, is emblematic of this new paradigm of American journalism. The Huffington Post, as Stephen Colbert pointed out when he stole the entire content of The Huffington Post and rechristened it The Colbuffington Re-post, produces little itself. The highly successful site, like most Internet sites, is largely pirated from other sources, especially traditional news organizations, or is the product of unpaid writers who are rechristened “citizen journalists.” It is driven by the celebrity gossip that dominates cheap tabloids, with one or two stories that come from The New York Times or one of the wire services to give it a veneer of journalistic integrity. Hollywood celebrities, or at least their publicists, write windy and vapid commentaries. And this, I fear, is what news is going to look like in the future. The daily reporting and monitoring of city halls, courts, neighborhoods and government, along with investigations into corporate fraud and abuse, will be replaced by sensational garbage and Web packages that are made to look like news but contain little real news.

While I think the critique of HuffPo in the above paragraph is sound, in the balance of this op-ed Hedges engages in way too much of the hyperventilating he decries. Comparing HuffPo bloggers to exploited workers in China? Give me a break . . . that’s a disgraceful, insulting comparison to make. One also notes that even as Hedges denounces Internet-fueled journalism in favor of its old media counterparts, he is doing so on a publication (truthdig) that is native to the Internet.

Bottom line: I think the charges against HuffPo as a glorified celebrity gossip site and news aggregator are correct. But the argument about how many of the millions Arianna Huffington has made off her venture are justifiably hers is much thornier, as is the question of what HuffPo bloggers got out of their experience, other than money. Keep in mind that, like HuffPo, DailyKos, Facebook, Twitter, and even Gmail (to an extent) are businesses that make money off of other people who provide them with free content in exchange for a some kind of tangible benefit that said content-providers want to have.

Or consider that good old hoary, print-based Publishers Weekly pays me $25 per review, a wage that (depending on the book) would frequently come out below minimum wage if we were to calculate it out on a per-hour basis. Which is to say, I write for Publishers Weekly for reasons other than money, as I’m sure a number of its contributors do. Does that make Publishers Weekly exploitative? I have no doubts that, were PW to pay us significantly more, it would soon go bankrupt.

One cannot simply tar HuffPo and forget that this is the current working model for much of the Internet, and a non-trivial fraction of print journalism. How much is a Facebook user’s content worth, and how much should a Facebooker be compensated for it, above and beyond the right to use Facebook? By that same token, does the experience of blogging on HuffPo suffice? To what extent can and should the Internet be a gift economy, and what of those who make some money off of the gift-giving? Who knows. Though I will say this: I’m no fan of The Huffington Post, but at least I never heard of Ariana Huffington grossly infringing on anyone’s privacy rights a la Mark Zuckerberg.

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