Why No One Should Write for HuffPo
There are people trying to start companies on a shoestring and who aer looking for the time equivalent of investors who want nothing in return. The problem with wanting something for nothing is that generally you get exactly what you pay for. And then there are people like Arianna Huffington. The Huffington Post has just raised a third round of investment money: $15 million. That brings the total to ... $40 million.
As the Wired piece notes, a major challenge is "to sustain or increase its traffic numbers under a friendly administration." But there is another challenge. How can a publisher claim a "progressive" market position and the moral high ground, attacking "selfish" special interests when it wants to build a commercial enterprise using mostly unpaid help?
Though most of HuffPo's 2.5 million contributors are unpaid, the site still has a good deal of overheard (especially compared to the 1.5 man operation at The Drudge Report). Most of the money raised to date has been reinvested to hire editors, reporters and advertising representatives, according to The New York Times.Look at that number again: 2.5 million contributors. Of course there is overhead. Web hosting companies cannot afford to write for free. Utilities cannot provide free power. Owners of buildings must charge rent to justify their investment.
Most of the money has been "reinvested?" It's called paying the necessary bills. Hiring reporters and editors? Maybe a handful, but how many? Five? Ten? Twenty? Even if it were 50, that would still mean that not "most" but "virtually all" contributors worked for nothing. So why does HuffPo think that contributors to the site, the very people that help make it possible, should be greatful for the chance to be read?
Huffington wants to grow the site and plans to use the funding to expand its local coverage and investigative reporting — two areas that may be hard to monetize. Scaling local content in a shrinking ad market will be tough, and hunting down scoops can be a costly pursuit, especially for a site that specializes in commentary rather than breaking news.Ah, so the company - it is a company, not an individual, not a movement - wants local coverage. Undoubtedly for free, and probably hoping to take audience from local newspapers in the process.
Even notedly impoverished advocacy publications like The Nation manage to scrape up something to pay contributors. (Calvin Trillin has spoken of being paid in the "high two figures.") Couldn't Huffington manage even a Starbucks card with the cost of a latte on it? For those who tell themselves they are getting great exposure, remember that it is exposure suggesting that you can be had for nothing. (Or should that sentence have ended "you can be had?") Once a company sets its practices early on, it is very unlikely to significantly change the model, for those holding out hope that one day HuffPo will pay. But why should it? There is no reason to change your ways if the people on whose backs you ride don't stand upright and say, "No."