2007 - 2021

Huff Puff Enough?

As the Egyptian Revolution trembles and realisation dawns that power needs to be seized and will rarely if ever give up without a fight, the role of the media (old, social, new and multi) is again under the spotlight. So too in the Wild West where news of AOLs purchase of  The Huffington Post for $315 million has surprised (and pissed-off) many.  The post, founded in 2005 as a sort of antidote to the popular right wing Drudge Report, has been a home for home to the US soft-left and a by-word in participatory journalism. It played a significant part in re-balancing the media landscape from shock-jocks and Guidoesque loony-right blogosphere.

Like a sort of vejazzled Guardian online the site was littered with good cultural commentary, environmental analysis and a progressive politics rarely seen in US media-land, crucially it was backed by some well-heeled sponsors. In response to the readers ‘n’ writers backlash the Huffington sent out a mass email to the disaffected. “Your posts will have an even bigger impact on the national and global conversation,” she wrote. “That’s the only real change you’ll notice — more people reading what you wrote.”

But juvenile delinquent Adbusters has created its own campaign to counter this, naming Bella Caledonia and thirty other alt news sites as the places to go instead of the Post and railing:

“Socialite Arianna Huffington built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists. She exploited our idealism and let us labor under the illusion that the Huffington Post was different, independent and leftist. Now she’s cashed in and three thousand indie bloggers find themselves working for a megacorp. But the Huffington Post is not Arianna’s to sell. It is ours: the lefty writers and readers, environmentalism activists and anti-corporate organizers who flooded the site with 25 million visits a month. So we’re going to take it back. We’ll stop going to her site. And we’ll stop blogging for her too.”

Huff writer – and occasional Bella contributor – Pat Kane sees it differently:

“How does it feel – as an occasional Huff Post Blogger who knew there would never be any payment involved – to observe the whole enterprise being sold to AOL for three hundred or so million dollars? I suppose I should be outraged that my free labour has contributed to a valuation from which I won’t receive a penny of direct profit. But I’m not – and that perhaps because I look at the world of huge sales and takeovers of web enterprises as essentially a far-off farce. Antonio Negri often talks about how capital is parasitic on the informational commons  – that space of flows which the open internet, historically configured by the state (in its US military form) and scholarly hackers, currently represents. Sometimes I don’t think it’s parasitic, though, as much as highly delusional. Really, are Google and Facebook valuing Twitter for purchase at between $8-10 billion, for a technology that essentially the textually-rendered blethering of the knowledge classes? What a madhouse they’re in. The great paradox of net commerce is that it’s trying to monetise a process which is essentially a kind of functional left anarchism/liberatarian socialism, as least in its end-to-end, copy-anything structure: an information system that takes from each according to ability, and gives to each according to need.
Yes, if the Man changes the link structure to Ted Nelson’s Hypertext option (a micro-penny royalty to each author on every click), and if we are not vigilant about issues like net neutrality and state filtering and shutdown, then we will have a different web – something like the controlled “CD Rom in your hand” experience of the iPad, but on every screen. But as long as it’s wired the way it is – and we articulately defend that digital constitution, as Lawrence Lessig once asked us to – then its power to allow communities and individuals to organise and express themselves, in ways never before possible, means it will thumb its nose at any commercial enclosure. I think it’s one of the loveliest ironies of the moment that the guy whose Facebook page was part of the rallying call in Egypt was a Google marketing executive, who lied to his Emirates employers about taking some home leave, so he could help organise the first day of rage. It shows how net values inspire individuals, even when they’re at the heart of enterprises that are nakedly commercial in their net ambitions.
What’s certainly required is some new thinking about how we sustain the open web – Douglas Rushkoff is right to say we need to scour the recent past to think of new, less controllable, more resilient web structures.  I’ll continue to write for the Huff Post, knowing that the person with the real power in the situation is me, the blogger. And the point is to invest in the health of the host, not worry about the latest parasite.”

Here at Bella we are still waiting for BigMediaInc to swoop down and offer us gazillions for our scribblings, until then, nobody owns us… 

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  1. Vronsky says:

    I see Mr Kane is as impenetrable as ever.

    I shed no tears for Huffington – it was awfully careful where it went, so it never went very far.

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    Not sure if I’d agree with Pat’s logic on this one. What Huffington Post once had, and made it special, has now gone. I suspect their readership will rapidly plummet from the 25 million figure per month. They’ll go the way of Napster or Pirate Bay once the cheque has been cashed. A footprint in the history of information flow.

    This was an AOL wrecking ball. Incorporate the competitors in order to silence or destroy them. But the internet is fluid. Readers will move elsewhere, set up new loci of citizen journalism, and learn from this betrayal. And, anyway, why would anyone want to work for AOL for free?

    Corporations think everyone has a price tag but there’s more important things in life than enriching yourself at other people’s expense.


    1. R Bell says:

      “They’ll go the way of Napster or Pirate Bay once the cheque has been cashed” – Or even Youtube.

  3. milgram says:

    I’d love to be rich enough to write for no payment and not be bothered about enriching corporation X.

    The media is not like the Free Software movement, you can’t “fork” work taken over by a corporation that’s no longer serving the community (i.e. OpenOffice / LibreOffice). It’s about mindshare and if you aren’t building a free environment, you’re reinforcing the unfree status quo.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Milgram its a fair point, we all need an income, even writers.

      But if you look at Joan McAlpine, Rob Edwards, Joyce McMillan, Iain Macwhirter, Ian Bell, Pat Kane, George Monbiot or countless others you see writers who straddle old and new (or paid and unpaid) media. The real issue of Huffington was that its political content was getting dilluted anyway.

      Just as the internet created a different sales structure for online music it also created a boom in live performance, that for me is the relationship between writing and blogging

      1. milgram says:

        I’ve never read the HP (so can’t speak to its politics). I don’t have any issue with folk writing for free. Writers write, and they benefit from it through exposure, practice, whatever.

        But there’s (perceived) value in the aggregation, in the “community” around a site. That rightly belongs to that community (including the writer), not an individual or a corporation. 21st century surplus value extracted from the writer/worker and bored office workers in their lunch break.(*)

        So when something like this happens, part of me is pleased that the illusion of friendly new “social” media businesses gets weakened. But mostly I can’t think why someone would write for free for people that can afford to pay you. (To follow yr music analogy, that makes the writer an X Factor contestant; receives lots of attention while the material reward goes to Simon Cowell.)

        [(*) which is why I don’t hardly comment on newspapers’ websites]

  4. R Bell says:

    I’ve always found the American notion of “left wing” an odd one. Come to think of it the British idea of “left” is odd too.

    A lot of the American left seems to be retarded. Not in the un-p.c. American slang sense of “stupid”, but in the sense that most of the genuine left in the USA seems not to have gone very far since WWII, and has completely alienated a lot of the American working class. (There are some honorable exceptions in the ’60s and ’70s, but even some of these are borderline examples.) Maybe I’m just seeing the tip of the iceberg, but it looks more like a lettuce than a floating glacier from here.

    As for American “liberalism”, this notion deserves an article on Bella to itself. “Liberalism” in the American sense seems to be spreading like a virus in the UK, thanks partly to the influence of the Guardian. Some folk are under the delusion that it is left-wing.

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