Arianna Huffington’s AOL deal sparks accusations of political sell-out

Sunday, February 27, 2011

NEW YORK - Arianna Huffington has long reigned as the queen of America’s chattering classes, using her Huffington Post website as a platform to transform herself into a darling of the United States’ left-leaning media elite.

But now, she has been accused of a political sell-out, following her decision to sell her web site-HuffPo-to web giant AOL for 315 million dollars.

Huffington is being accused by bloggers of making a personal fortune from their labour.

According to The Guardian, America’s Newspaper Guild, the journalists’ union, has started a campaign to target the Huffington Post as having a business model that has done great damage by not paying contributors.

It has demanded that Huffington donate some of her AOL deal profits to investing in paid journalism.

“After building a media empire based on unpaid writers and republishing the works of others… we are calling on Arianna Huffington to invest in quality journalism by sharing a portion of this fortune,” said the guild’s president, Bernie Lunzer.

That appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears.

HuffPo spokesman Mario Ruiz denied the website was a problem for the industry, saying: “It’s both wrong and offensive to insist that the HuffPo is exploiting journalists.”

But since the AOL deal was announced this month, there has been an avalanche of criticism of the website and its smooth-talking founder.

“To grasp its business model… you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates,” blasted Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten.

Blogger and cartoonist Matt Bors revealed that he refused a HuffPo offer to put his work on the website because it would not pay him. He called the HuffPo business model of offering publicity and exposure instead of money “abhorrent”.

David Carr, the New York Times media critic, mentioned the HuffPo’s business practices in an article headlined “At media companies, a nation of serfs”.

Even HuffPo bloggers joined the condemnation.

One of them - R.B. Stuart - claimed: “Arianna not only sold her soul as well as her ship of slaves, but sowed the seeds of her demise with this act of greed and exploitation.”

Other bloggers said they would never write for her again and a Facebook page was set up to get the HuffPo to pay its bloggers.

It was called “Hey Arianna, can you spare a dime?”.

HuffPo critic Simon Dumenco gleefully catalogued all the criticism in a piece entitled “Welcome aboard the anti-HuffPo bandwagon”.

“The backlash is well deserved. She has made a fortune on the back of freelance writers working for nothing, but there is a political betrayal too. She betrayed the ideals of a lot of people who were happy to work for nothing because they thought it was for a cause,” said Professor Jack Lule, a journalism teacher at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania.

Professor Chris Daly, who teaches journalism at Boston University, said: “There is a certain amount of sour grapes involved here. Some people look at her success and see that she turned a blog into a big mountain of cash. That is the dream for a lot of people, but they won’t be able to do it to the same extent.” (ANI)

will not be displayed