The Award for Most Bitterly Ironic Media Award Goes to ...

Why Is a Journalism School Honoring a Blog Mogul Who Thinks Journalists Should Work for Free?

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And the award for the Most Bitterly Ironic Media Award goes to ... the Fred Dressler Lifetime Achievement Award, to be bestowed upon Arianna Huffington by Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at the upcoming Mirror Awards luncheon in Manhattan.

Congratulations, Arianna!

Now please excuse me as I crawl under my desk and curl into the fetal position.

HUFFY: Creating wealth for herself on the backs of unpaid bloggers.
HUFFY: Creating wealth for herself on the backs of unpaid bloggers. Credit: Lane Ericcson
Really, the school -- which exists to train journalists -- should know better than to honor a woman who thinks journalists should work for free!

Funny how the fact that The Huffington Post fails to pay most of its bloggers didn't come up when Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham gushed about the blog mistress in a prepared statement: "Arianna Huffington was ahead of the curve with HuffPo. She embraced the use of new media but never forgot that no matter where or how you tell the story, content is still king. This is what we teach our students."

Oh, give me a break! Content, in Arianna's world, is not king, and it never was. Link bait is king; opportunism is king. If content was really honored at The Huffington Post, the site wouldn't have gotten in trouble last December for lifting content wholesale from other sites that do pay for their own content. (In case you missed the scandal, HuffPo's Chicago outpost got caught red-handed stealing detailed, bylined capsule concert previews -- not just quoting them but copying them in their entirety -- from the likes of the Chicago Reader and Time Out Chicago. See "Arianna Huffington's Scuzzy Copying Pisses Off Chicagoans" on Gawker.)

I've been raging about HuffPo's devaluation of content -- and, ergo, content creators -- since late 2007, when HuffPo co-founder Ken Lerer told USA Today the company had no plans to ever pay its bloggers: "That's not our financial model. We offer them visibility, promotion and distribution with a great company."

At the time, a HuffPo contributor, Blake Fleetwood, wrote an open letter to Jim Romenesko's media blog, saying, "For HuffPo to have paid their posters from the beginning would probably have doomed the experiment at its inception." Well, fine -- except that last year The New Yorker was reporting that HuffPo was already basically break-even. And insiders have floated a valuation for the company of $200 million. I've questioned that bloated figure in this column as recently as January, but even if HuffPo is worth half that or a quarter of that, well, it's unconscionable for Huffington and Lerer and the backers of HuffPo to create millions for themselves on the backs of bloggers duped into working for "visibility." Especially since the most obvious beneficiary of the HuffPo visibility dividend is Arianna Huffington herself.

By the way, check out who's on the luncheon committee of the Mirror Awards: Betsy Morgan, the CEO of The Huffington Post! And she served on the committee last year, too!

The involvement of Morgan -- CEO of a company that enriches its owners but pays nothing to most of its actual content producers -- with the Mirror Awards last year was part of the reason I asked my editors at Ad Age to stop submitting my columns for consideration. (The Mirror Awards are media-about-media awards, created to "honor the reporters, editors and teams of writers who hold a mirror to their own industry for the public's benefit." Though Ad Age submitted entries the first two years of the awards' existence -- and didn't win -- we declined to submit anything at all this year.) The other reasons? Other grandees involved with the Mirror Awards, including Morgan's luncheon co-chair, David Zaslav, who made headlines last summer when it was revealed that he had one of the most disproportionately plush compensation packages in media -- $18 mil in cash and stock in his first year on the job, even as he was laying off 25% of Discovery's worldwide work force. And in an equally bad bit of timing, the Newhouse School also made NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker a co-chair. This not long after former "Dateline NBC" correspondent John Hockenberry wrote (for Technology Review) about how Zucker personally overruled his reporting about al-Qaida in the aftermath of 9/11, saying instead that he was much more interested in Hockenberry doing a TV-friendly heroes hagiography -- suggesting a "Cops"-style ride-along with firefighters. (Hockenberry also wrote about how he got major interference from NBC parent GE when he was in Saudi Arabia trying to report on the Bin Laden family -- because of GE's business dealings with the Bin Laden Group.)

It's one thing for a journalism school to draw attention to itself -- to make a naked grab for the sort of heightened "visibility" Ken Lerer values so highly -- by creating a self-referential journalism-about-journalism award. And it's natural for the organizers of the awards ceremony to align themselves with highly visible media people to attempt to heighten that visibility. But it's quite another thing to give recognition to people who damage the very profession of journalism.

Arianna Huffington, of course, is a smart cookie. As she accepts her Lifetime Achievement Award, she'll no doubt call attention to the HuffPo's recently announced nonprofit Investigative Fund (a sort of good-PR successor to OffTheBus, Huffpo's "citizen-powered" -- read: free-labor-powered -- campaign-trail project). And surely she'll say some vaguely Utopian things about the power of the internet and the democratization of media.

Maybe she'll even offer an inspirational tidbit or two to the next generation of journalists -- those starry-eyed Newhouse School students in the audience who can look forward to working for free.

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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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