Sorry, Ariana and Markos, No More Free Content For You

by: davidseth

Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 21:51:38 PM EST

I know all too much about writing for free.  I do it here all the time. It's a labor of love.  I've been at it for more than 900 blog posts and more than 5 years.  I know about writing without being paid for it.  Despite that, and despite my understanding that when I post at group blogs I know I won't get paid, I am absolutely furious about the AOL-Huffington Post Deal.  Why?  Because the writers are getting screwed, and they're not going to get a cent out of the deal. Not a sou.

The news this morning--  I'm sure you haven't missed it--  was that that beleaguered, dinosaur of dial up AOL has bought Huffington Post and made that doyenne of self promotion and faux progressive politics, Arianna, an AOL executive.  Here's the essence of the story from the New York Times:

davidseth :: Sorry, Ariana and Markos, No More Free Content For You
The two companies completed the sale Sunday evening and announced the deal just after midnight on Monday. AOL will pay $315 million, $300 million of it in cash and the rest in stock. It will be the company's largest acquisition since it was separated from Time Warner in 2009.
The deal will allow AOL to greatly expand its news gathering and original content creation, areas that its chief executive, Tim Armstrong, views as vital to reversing a decade-long decline.

Arianna Huffington, the cable talk show pundit, author and doyenne of the political left, will take control of all of AOL's editorial content as president and editor in chief of a newly created Huffington Post Media Group. The arrangement will give her oversight not only of AOL's national, local and financial news operations, but also of the company's other media enterprises like MapQuest and Moviefone.

Meanwhile, the bloggers at HuffPo, the ones who provide the "original content creation", that was just sold for $315,000,000.00 get, wait for it, nothing.  Zilch. Nada. Zero.  And in an email this morning to bloggers, Ariana told them not to worry, no te preocupes, they could still churn out "original content creation",  just like before, and well, continue to get the same nothing for it:

The HuffPost blog team will continue to operate as it always has. Arianna will become editor-in-chief not only of HuffPost but of the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, which will include all of AOL's content sites, including Patch, Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, PopEater, MapQuest, Black Voices, and Moviefone.

Together, our companies will have a combined base of 117 million unique U.S. visitors a month -- and 250 million around the world -- so your posts will have an even bigger impact on the national and global conversation. That's the only real change you'll notice -- more people reading what you wrote.

Far from changing the Huffington Post's editorial approach, our culture, or our mission, it will be like stepping off a fast-moving train and onto a supersonic jet. We're still traveling toward the same destination, with the same people at the wheel, and with the same goals, but we're now going to get there much, much faster.

When I first read this, I was furious.  I quickly penned an essay, which I published at dailyKos in which I argued that the bloggers, the writers at HuffPo were being screwed because they weren't getting a cent out of the $315 million dollar deal.

To my amazement, many of the comments to that essay told me that I was off base.  Did I write for free and publish my writing at daily Kos?  Yes. Didn't I do that because it would expose me to a wide audience?  Yes.  Didn't I write it all for free, without hope of money?  Yes.  Didn't I?  I did.  What kind of loon (I'm paraphrasing here) would think that he should write hundreds of diaries for free and that when the platform was sold, he should receive something?  You've already received something, it was argued, you got the exposure and a larger audience for your writing.  You don't, it was argued, deserve anything more.  You get bupkis from the $315 million deal; you don't deserve more than that.

That just may be so.  I never posted an essay or a comment at HuffPo.  So I don't deserve any of the $315,000,000 Ariana and her investors are being paid.  I figure that if Ariana put 1% of the deal up and gave it to the writers, there would be $3.15 million to distribute.  How many writers could there be?  If there were 1,000, they could each be given $3,150.  They could be told, "Thank you for writing for free.  Because your writing helped me make a bundle, I've decided to send you this small check as a token of my appreciation.  Your writing is worth far more than this amount, but this is something I want you to have as a token of my gratitude.  It's not pay.  It's a gift.  You helped me make a big score, and I want to thank you for that."

MSNBC is reporting that HuffPo had 6,000 free bloggers writing for it (last sentence of linked article).  If that's so, the 1% gratuity would come to about $500 per person.  And the number of people who wrote so that Ariana could be well paid would be enormouse.  

At any rate, you'd expect some acknowledgment of the bloggers and writers.  You wouldn't expect anything less from a progressive.  When somebody at the race track gives you a tip, and you bet the horse, and it wins, you always give the tipper some of the winning.  When a football quarterback wins a big game, he takes the linemen out to dinner and drinks.  You have gratitude for those who make it possible to win.  When someone in business helps you out and you have gratitude, you send flowers or wine or a fruit basket.  Or you pay for a meal.  These are expressions of gratitude for help.  They are always appreciated, especially if your original deal was that you wouldn't be paid.

Is Ariana going to get out her check book and write a check, or is she going to sit on it?  Probably the latter.  So I won't be signing up to write at HuffPo at any time soon.  And I'll support Al Giordano and others who have decided to take down their writing from the site.

Which brings me to Markos and dailyKos.  I have loved writing for dailyKos over the years.  But if today's events tell me anything, it's that dailyKos might well be the next group web site to be sold for hundreds of millions of dollars.  And it's the same as HuffPo in this:  there are many, many talented people writing diaries there.  There is some brilliant writing.  That writing is the value of the site.  And that writing is being given to the site and its readership for free.  And when the site is ultimately acquired by the capitalists with the big check books and they write Markos a gigantic check, what then?  Same story, different day.  I'll be told that I agreed to write for free, that I had a large audience, and that is all.  I got what I deserve; I will get nothing more. Things will be the same with the new corporate master.   Why, I wonder, should I or anyone else contribute our writing, increase the value of the site, and then, poof, have it be sold while we receive nothing?

As America's former poet laureate tried to say, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."  So, no, I'm done.  I will not be moving to DK4 when the site changes over this week.  I will not be publishing any further diaries at dailyKos.  I am not willing to continue to provide value to dailyKos that will eventually be sold without any payment of any kind to me.  No.  I'm done.  I'll stick to my blog and to the Writers Port Alliance.  You can join me there or at the other Writers Port Alliance sites (all listed at the top of this blog) .

cross posted from The Dream Antilles  


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There is a specter haunting the Internet. (14.00 / 6)
The specter of valuing our writing.

Thanks for reading.

You do get it, davidseth! (13.00 / 2)
And bravo to you for saying it wonderfully!! is apparent that America is suffering some kind of paranoid psychotic episode.  ~ Matthew Norman  

[ Parent ]
heh (6.00 / 3)
I let this one sit a day.  The arc of my professional life is the software industry (peef8 has seen my CV, such as it is).  A goodly chunk of my friends got their buyout or option  money and went on to become writers and musicians and political people, sometimes those buyouts give a few dozen people the ability to do whatever they wish with the rest of their lives.  I have trouble begruding anyone was public software, we used it, they sold it.  That said, being head of AOL media is possibly one of the worst jobs in the world, and buyouts seldom create what the MBAs and VCs imagine.    

Software with explicitly noncommercial or public purpose needs to be licensed and delivered as such, strongly protected.  I think soapblox is some variant on that.    

Even the mighty sell out... (6.00 / 3)

Warecorp Acquires SoapBlox is apparent that America is suffering some kind of paranoid psychotic episode.  ~ Matthew Norman  

[ Parent ]
interesting... (5.00 / 2)
...ex Digitas manager and two strong technical web folks, about 70 employees, strong offshoring emphasis (which doesn't bother me as it does some).  Up and comer which looks to be building a solid track record.  

It looks rather like soapblox mechanics got handed off to warecorp.  Soapblox remains GPL and on sourceforge:

Seems like a good fit, is a bidness, with all the housekeeping that entails, and the best default hosting company would be someone ambitious enough to stay in business but not evil.  I know some sr Digitas folks who are absolutely stellar and by general rep I'd say a spinoff is likely to be ambitious and careful.  A GPL'd blog engine is unlikely to ever make big bucks, or have a role in their own exit strategy.

[ Parent ]
asdf (9.00 / 4)
this is one segment of the seemy underbelly of the "new media."  The other is the heavy dependence for original content on "old media" sources.  When the newspapers fail due to lack of revenue, who's going to pay reporters to dig?  People have to make a living.

All I write over at kos falls into three categories.
(1) silly lol-based crap for a quick laugh.
(2) live-blog open threads when a hot story is rolling and generating chat.
(3) fundraisers for something or other.

I don't have time to research and write substantive pieces without getting compensated.  Gotta make a living, and I surely couldn't do that writing for kos (even if I was any good).

Thanks for the reflection, davidseth... it is very thought provoking.

"the dog ate your financial system." -- J. H. Kunstler

Markos is to blogging... (13.00 / 5)
what Tom Sawyer is to fence painting.

huge difference between dailykos and huffpo (14.00 / 1)
Huffpo is a very commercial news/entertainment product. It looks it. I could see a major company using it.

Dailykos is a just a big liberal mass blogging site. I don't see why anyone would want to buy it, and if they do it won't be for a large amount of money.

I am surprised Huffpo is worth 300+ mil, but dailykos is not worth more than a few mil. It's not a truly commercial platform.

i don't think dKos is (0.00 / 0)
a big liberal mass blogging site.

it is, from my perspective, an organ of the Dem party.

these days, that t'ain't liberal. imo.

simplify... writing in the rAw

[ Parent ]
that's a matter of interpretation (0.00 / 0)
I've hung around it enough to see that a majority of dkos users are liberal democrats. Sure they pledge allegiance to the Democratic Party, but they are still just regular liberals not an organ of the party. That's quite different from independent liberals and leftists who do not automatically support Democrats (like here).

My coworker is very liberal but he is devoted to always voting for the Democratic party. He is the type that is an average dkos user.

[ Parent ]
additionally (7.50 / 2)
I kinda agree, and not from a leftist viewpoint.

If I had a website that depended on a large amount of people participating, and made a decent amount of money off of it, I would create incentives for better writers/participants to stay and produce better content.

It is a good business model to keep those who help me make my money interested in continuing to do so.

I am not sure Kos makes enough to do that though. He does have his contributors and employees.

there is an arc to these things. (7.33 / 3)
I remember the first time I heard someone -- a very very bright and talented someone -- describe being bought, after years of work, as success.  Until that day, in the software industry, I'd always thought success meant "shipped" first and "sold a bunch of them" right after.  I was a new software engineering mgr in the valley, fresh from the fields of redmond, and it shook me to my core.  This sounds like hyperbole but isn't really -- it was like someone told me that santa was the pedophile next door, or something.  All that love and energy and work -- to be bought?  What is wrong with you?

But I adapted :}  I agree that Kos isn't likely to be the same sort of platform.  It does have eyeballs though.  It probably makes VCs look twice at it, and think about liberal sites as media platforms.  A lot of this stuff is just market feel.  DK just became worth a little more -- not as much as HP, but probably more than your honest valuation.  

That said, AOL is tainted and reeks of doom.  The market impact of AOL buying something is not the same as if one of the major valley players had invested with a long term plan.

[ Parent ]
agreed about AOL (7.00 / 2)
It's a dinosaur that has not adapted well. But obviously Arianna "succeeded" :)

As for Kos and the possibility of it being a decent media platform, I think the move to dk4 could help, if it doesn't break the site due to bugs and decentralization of content. That same decentralization and group separation could potentially reduce some of the major conflicts that shake Kos from time to time. The new version can segregate the warring parties enough to bring more stability to the platform. Just my opinion :)

[ Parent ]
eh (8.00 / 2)
the extreme simplicity of content probably counts against it; the number of hits gives it value.  Nobody cares what people do there so long as they sign up and come back. So very many great ideas for this or that never get that kind of success.  A potential investor would see what that hit rate could potentially do when coupled with his or her great idea.  From an investment standpoint, the only thing wrong with DK is that has failed to monetize hit rate sufficiently -- and to a marketing type, that can always be fixed.  Of course, they usually kill the patient, but...

Doubt they have any interest in selling.  But I'd bet that they've gotten at least a few calls in the last few days.

[ Parent ]
Do not miss the comments at (7.50 / 2)
dailyKos on this essay.  None of the nearly 300 comments is by me; but you get a taste for the arrogance, nastiness, and willful ignorance that might be responsible for the launch of DK4.  I still think a lot of the commenters are shills paid for by rightwing groups to provoke pie fights and conflict, but at this point I am gone from there.

Exactly why I rarely bother (8.50 / 2)
to even go there anymore.  Something evil and nasty has taken over and I've no desire to partake of it.

You done good, davidseth.. the high road is always a better way to go. is apparent that America is suffering some kind of paranoid psychotic episode.  ~ Matthew Norman  

[ Parent ]
in fairness... (13.50 / 2)
...not all the comments were sucky.  Many agreed generally even if they weren't in the most serious reply mode.  Some of course were predictably icky.

I am not a DK4 fan but having spent my life on dev and think-- very seriously -- that they are being quite brave.  Making a new thing that doesn't exist and bringing it to the world is enormously hard.  Sometimes it sucks, or doesn't meet the needs of the users/community, or is flawed because of how it was spec'd and designed, or because the team had processes that simply don't converge.  But the effort itself -- that is truly brave, and while I've taken my potshots, at some point it feels like throwing tomatoes at the workmen because the house is in an architectural style I don't like.  There are people going sleepless.  Maybe they will fail.  I don't like it much.  But...y'know...I'd bring them burritos at midnight if they were in my workgroup.

[ Parent ]
good point. (8.00 / 1)
i didn't know if it is good or bad, but I do think that such dramatic change for dKos at this juncture is risky, not for the new design, but because so many seem on the verge of no longer believing that the site will help incite or spur production of politicis or policy meaningful (in the positivie) for most Americans. not to mention those living beyond the sea...

and DK4 might just be more than they can tolerate.

having said that, i love your comment. that is the kind of thinking that we need.

we keep talkinga bout death. and not enough about life.

simplify... writing in the rAw

[ Parent ]
heh (9.00 / 1)
I'll try to have bunny rabbits next time.  Promise.  But they will, sadly, be provocative, irritating bunny rabbits.

[ Parent ]
melvin likes bunnies. (9.00 / 1)
therefore, i like bunnies.

don't ask what's gotten into me today. just in one of those moods!

thanks, btw, for stirring things up. i need to get back into shape, thinking wise.

you make me think hard. you help me to realize i have to write about my time off from blogging

simplify... writing in the rAw

[ Parent ]
oh cool. (4.00 / 1)
If you write it in nederlands I promise to do my best to work it out :)

Writing is good, and writing about that would rock, I suspect.

Though I had to laugh at melvin's comments about DK being OCD.  I don't think it has a corner on that quality:} One of the reasons I try not to write diaries is I know I'll keep checking back and responding to shit.  And, really...good grief...a truly beautiful Seattle day is gone.  The good part is that it distracts me from homework just long enough to get scared again that I'll screw it up, and back I go...

OCD indeed.

[ Parent ]
we finally had a good day here too (8.00 / 1)
we had this fucking wind... oh my god. it blew hard for days. howling and howling.

crazy. and really, it scared me a little.

but today the wind was normal and the sun was out!

simplify... writing in the rAw

[ Parent ]
The north sea (9.00 / 1)
has a long and really compelling history.  Probably because my dad was big into maritime history, the wind coming and going is as rich in narrative as NYC for me.  Even the waves have a menace and regularity, a unique beat so very different from Puget Sound, the coastal pacific, or the US atlantic coasts.  But then, I'm nuts :}

Hope you got some of the rays.  Sadly, I missed it all except for about 30 minutes on the freeway.

[ Parent ]
this wind was from the south! (9.00 / 1)
france. at least that's what ej said.

you dad sounds like an interesting guy...  

simplify... writing in the rAw

[ Parent ]
Well, I took a look at the first twenty or so. (10.00 / 5)
Same tired old crowd desperately trotting out their alleged bon mots. It is all so predictable, so overdetermined. There is an OCD quality about it.

The new one will have a little novelty value, but it seems like just the opportunity to leave that so many of the remaining decent people have been waiting for.

I wonder, when the new place goes up, if mamz will continue to claim as users the 85 billion or whatever the latest user id # is. When you subtract all the people who left whether in a dramatic huff or simple boredom, all the folks tossed out for some infraction of the idiotic rule du jour, and all the sockpuppets - perfectly fine if you kiss the right ass - how many active users are really there? 5-600?

Among the many differences between the two: Arianna actually has a personality and a sense of humor.

Decline to Sign Ref 74 but vote to approve

[ Parent ]
i always appreciate a comment (7.33 / 3)
that allows for that rating...

simplify... writing in the rAw

[ Parent ]
it was all I could do... (9.00 / 1)
...not to add w00t the other day.  Even knowing how it would go over.

[ Parent ]
nice post (0.00 / 0)
Such a kind of article is really awesome,I daily read your blogs and give my notice for that here this article is too great and so interesting.YuanDao N70 S

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