A few weeks ago I asked a question: is the Huffington Post a force for good or a liberal sweatshop? In the wake of HuffPo‘s megamillion-dollar sale to AOL, it struck me as appropriate to question the ethics behind an allegedly progressive business operating in a fashion that was indistinguishable from the greedmongering corporate entities it professed to oppose. I know a number of people who have written there (uncompensated, by and large) who feel that they benefited significantly from the arrangement, and I respect their perspectives.
Not everybody sees it that way, though. My own conclusion leaned heavily toward “sweatshop,” and now the site is dealing with a writer’s strike.
Arianna Huffington’s response to the strike?
And then there is the small matter of HuffPo’s legion of several thousand unpaid bloggers, including some who think that Arianna’s multimillion-dollar payday ought to trickle down to them. Don’t hold your breath.
Huffington raised eyebrows last week when she dismissed a call by Southern California publisher Bill Lasarow for the website’s unpaid bloggers to go on strike to protest Arianna’s estimated $50 million cash-windfall from the sale to AOL — and her apparent unwillingness to share her loot with the writers who helped build her website.
“Go ahead, go on strike,” Huffington declared during an event at the headquarters of The New York Times newspaper. Huffington said plenty of bloggers are waiting to take their place, and no one would really miss Lasarow’s team of arts writers anyway.
I tend to agree with NYU Journalism prof Adam Penenberg:
“While Arianna is right that she is not under any legal obligation to pay bloggers who agreed to write for free, I’m disappointed in her Marie Antoinette-like ‘let them eat cake’ comments,” said Penenberg. “Can you imagine what she would’ve said about a Tea Party-er raking in millions selling a media site built on mostly free labor who didn’t share the wealth?”
“At the very least, to belittle HuffPost contributors who are upset because she walks away with millions while they made no money is simply bad public relations,” Penenberg added. “Arianna comes across as one of those greedy corporate chieftains she claims to despise.”
Exactly. My immediate takeaway is that La Huff has done a remarkable job proving the point I sought to make back in February. And the PR/communications pro in me just fainted dead away at her imperial-strength display of entitlement. Nobody is going to miss them, anyway? For those of you who don’t speak Billionairess, let me translate for you:
Your value to me is solely a function of how much cash I can pimp you for, and I can replace you with monkeys. This afternoon. Besides, I got mine and there’s nothing you can do about it. So suck it, bitches.
It’s hard, if you follow the news, not to be compelled by the idea that we’re currently in something of a watershed moment in history. Revolts sweeping the Middle East, aiming to drive thugs like Mubarak and Gaddafi from power. The neo-feudalist Koch brothers and the Wisconsin uprisings against their towel-boy governor. The looming NFL work stoppage, driven by greedy billionaire owners who are demanding an extra $billion off the top because they need it. Their proof? You don’t need proof, they say – just trust us.
And why not – it’s not like the hyper-rich have ever lied to us before or acted in a way that was counter to our best interests, right?
Arianna Antoinette has picked a bad time to go all let-them-eat-cake on us. If she has PR advisors, they’d be well advised to lock her ass in a closet.
Meanwhile, I’ll see if there’s any way to take satisfaction in being right. I’m not optimistic. This is one of those times when it would be really wonderful to be proven wrong.