WASHINGTON — When The Huffington Post was sold to AOL last Monday for $315 million, its founder, Arianna Huffington, was feted as a new media pioneer. Not everyone is celebrating, however.
Huffington has been facing a backlash over the sale — from readers worried about what it will mean for the future of the site and from unpaid bloggers who helped make The Huffington Post such a valuable property.
Arianna Huffington’s blog post on Monday announcing the sale to AOL has attracted more than 7,500 comments as of Friday, many of them bemoaning the purchase of the left-leaning news and opinion site by AOL.
“I am disappointed and expect that HuffPost will be just like any other mainstream media outlet soon enough, with advertisers and the bottom line taking precedence over exposing the truth,” wrote “Euranya.”
“Why did you sell out?” a reader going by “bart4u” asked. “Your readers have made this site too and you made this decision without our feedback. I am going to miss my morning Huffington Post.”
“I don’t think this move bodes well for progressives,” said “cclaker.”
“SCnative” predicted a “slow downhill slide into corporate news mediocrity.”
Others adopted a wait-and-see attitude. A few welcomed the acquisition.
“We will just have to see if HuffPost stays progressive,” wrote “PennsylvaniaHero.” “I would hate to see them lose their identity.”
“On one hand, I want to kick my feet and scream corporate foul because I feel a certain sense of protectiveness towards this site,” said “Twinite.” “On the other hand… I get it! Very savvy move on both their parts.”
A reader going by Andy Gaus raised the issue of compensating bloggers. “Now that the sale has been made, it’s time to pay writers. No excuses,” Gaus said.
The Huffington Post has attracted a strong following — nearly 25 million unique visitors a month — for its lively mix of news, entertainment, opinion and blogs submitted by academics, entertainment figures and politicians.
Aside from the high-profile celebrities, thousands of ordinary writers have also contributed to the site since its launch in 2005, most of them for free.
The freelancers unit of the California Media Workers Guild said it was time for The Huffington Post to start paying these contributors and created a page on Facebook mockingly titled “Hey Arianna, Can You Spare a Dime?”
“AOL gave you $315 million: We’re asking you to give a little back to the unpaid writers who built the Huffington Post,” said the Facebook page, which has nearly 600 fans.
In a blog post on the guild site, Lauri Lebo said the AOL deal “was built on the backs of hard-working writers who never saw a dime for their labor” and urged Huffington to “share some of her profits with the people responsible.”
Jason Linkins, a political reporter at The Huffington Post, jumped into the debate with a blog post entitled “How The Huffington Post Works.”
He said The Huffington Post has many salaried employees like himself producing original content alongside bloggers “who flock to the site for a chance of being heard.”
“We have hundreds of people who want to take something they’ve written and put it in front of potentially millions of people, instead of their Facebook friends or their Twitter followers,” he said.
Media critic Jeff Jarvis agreed that exposure is the currency for many of the unpaid contributors to The Huffington Post — including himself.
“HuffPo brings me links to people and for me, it’s worth it to post there,” Jarvis said on his blog buzzmachine.com. “No one — not even the quite persuasive Arianna — is forcing me. I do it out of my self-interest.”