Why Media Pros Are the Only Ones Feeling 'Exploited' by Huffington Post

Count Me Among the Silent Grateful for Arianna's Blog (and Business Model)

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Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro

Since AOL's deal to acquire The Huffington Post, the knives have come out. Now that Arianna Huffington has made a little money, and has a big-time job at AOL lording over some 700 professional writers, editors and content producers of all stripes, a vocal group has decided to express apparently long-simmering indignation for, in the words of Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten, a "galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates."

But as one of those unpaid foot soldiers, I was caught by surprise at the animus. It was as if they thought the unpaid columnists -- and not Arianna -- deserved to be reaping value from the sale.

So I wondered, "Why did the sale elicit such a backlash, and who was yelling the loudest?"

A quick look at the anti-Arianna camp revealed basically that most detractors (whether or not they themselves were Huffington Post bloggers) felt in some way or another harmed by the disruptive model that Huffington Post represents. When it started, Huffington Post was the media business' worst nightmare because it created a distributed content-creation machine that was highly efficient since people contributed for free.

Since then, the media business has had Arianna in its cross-hairs. She made it uncomfortable. The sale put a number on the value she created -- $315 million -- and gave these people a new attack angle: Exploit the idea that Huffington Post was created on the back of poor exploited bloggers and Arianna was sharing none of the bounty.

What nonsense.

Exploitation means that one side has an unfair advantage over the other. That was never the case here. People submitted to be bloggers and got accepted (or not) on the merit of their work and their ability to build an audience. Not a single HuffPo blogger did it without understanding why she did it. In most cases and most times, this was an agreement made with everyone knowing exactly what each was getting in the bargain. For a great many writers, the bargain was tilted in their favor. Very talented but unknown people have become well-known thought-leaders and pundits as a result; to be a successful Huffington Post blogger can be a career-changing experience.

I, for one, have nothing but gratitude to the HuffPo. It gave me a valuable platform to create a franchise called "Judy Consumer," where I explore how the technology tsunami (yes, I use that word deliberately) is affecting regular people outside the marketing/tech world.

My gratitude then morphs into admiration when we remember she managed to pull off one of the boldest experiments in the media business since the advent of cable. There was no model to follow -- no clear road map for the future. Just a hunch that people wanted her brand of opinion and curation. The resulting HuffPo is, admittedly, still an interactive experiment that rises to brilliance and often stumbles into silliness. But those natural cycles should not obscure the true miracle that is the Huffington Post. She beat the traditional media world by using the newly emerging "many to many" business model that was exploding all round.

Then I wondered why the voices of gratitude to HuffPo are quiet. I realized that for most of us writing is a means to an end, and we're busy doing our "day jobs." The only ones who have time on their hands to talk about it are those media pros. I bring this voice of gratitude to the conversation to speak for many of us who appreciate what HuffPo did for our careers and our communities.

I'll end with this: To any HuffPo blogger who feels exploited, if you could go back in time, would you not have become a blogger at HuffPo? I suspect the vast majority would have done it anyway. And to you "outsiders" who are outraged on our behalf, I really wonder if you are bitter about HuffPo because you tried to become a blogger and didn't make the cut?

This little blogger slave has nothing but gratitude to Arianna. I thank you!

Judy Shapiro is chief brand strategist at CloudLinux and has held senior marketing positions at Paltalk, Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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