'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, March 06, 2011

They Got What They Deserved 

A few weeks ago, Arianna Huffington, and other investors associated with her, sold The Huffington Post to AOL. Besides receiving millions of dollars, she was appointed to some position within AOL related to news and opinion content. As most of you know, Huffington built up the Post by relying upon articles and columns submitted by people for free. In the beginning, the writers were primarily celebrities, as this was the initial cachet of the Post, the opportunity to read the opinions of high profile entertainment figures. But, over time, the Post gravitated towards the work of individuals with some sort of journalistic or political connection to the subjects that they wrote about.

Now, with Huffington pocketing a lot of money partially as a consequence of their efforts, some of these writers, as well as some journalists, have expressed anger that none of the money obtained through the sale to AOL is going to them. We have even been subjected to such nonsense as the notion that some provided their work for free because they considered the Post a political enterprise, part of a movement to challenge the ascendancy of the right in the US. Of course, it's ludicrous, and I don't have the slightest bit of sympathy for them. Huffington made it clear from the inception that the Post was a business enterprise, subsequently obtaining approximately $20 million in outside capital several years ago. She made no secret that she wanted to grow the readership for the purpose of increasing the Post's profitability, and did so by highlighting celebrity gossip on the site. Perhaps, we have an example of a particular kind of paradoxical liberal thinking among these writers whereby they really believed that they could change the world with the assistance of a self-serving Internet entrepreneur like Huffington.

Furthermore, and perhaps more insidiously, Huffington was also clear about the constraints upon content imposed by her business plan from the beginning as well. She solicited Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com to post opinion pieces on the site shortly after the Post was launched, and then quickly dropped him when he, quite predictability, expressed his hostility to Zionism. Conversely, the pro-Israel apologetics of Alan Dershowitz have been an enduring feature. She personally expressed support for Israel on the site when it attacked Lebanon in 2006. Since the election of Obama, the Post has been known, in contradistinction to a site like firedoglake, as a cheerleader for the Obama presidency.

Does Arianna do such things for profit, or does she believe them? We will never know. But the writers should have known what they were getting into. For their own reasons, they decided that they would undermine the efforts of their brethren who have been insistent upon compensation for their work, and submit their writings to the Post for free. In this, Huffington is correct, there was a deal, and the writers thought that they could promote themselves by grabbing onto her coattails. Instead of acting in solidarity with others who were attempting to prevent the Internet from becoming a place where capital expropriated the work of writers for free for its benefit, they played along in the expectation that, through their association with the Post, they were be among the few winners, some of the few writers who could actually earn a living by publishing over the Internet. Or, they were so intoxicated by the opportunity for exposure, that they were grateful just to have their work posted there. Or, maybe both. In any event, they, as the title of this post says, got exactly what they deserved.

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