Yesterday, the Huffington Post ran a story about a survey of what journalism graduates make in their first year of work these days: about $30,000.
This is a sad comment on the state of journalism, which has become devalued, but it’s also ironic that it appeared in HuffPo, because Arianna Huffington has done a great deal to encourage the devaluation of professional journalism.
For starters, she doesn’t pay her writers.
You may wonder why someone who is so rich, and who just increased her wealth immensely by selling HuffPo to AOL, might refuse to pay the people who do the essential work that maintains her website: writing. Huffington, who often bemoans the political disempowerment of the middle class, is doing everything she can to disempower journalists who are of the middle class, and who have a history of doing the kind of reporting that lets the rest of our democracy understand what is happening, politically. Without good reporting, nobody is putting any checks on the rampant polarization of the lower and upper classes in this country.
The Huffington Post is a parasitic website, reposting tidbits from other news outlets and blogs (they are not the same), without adding anything to the conversation. The original posts on HuffPo are mainly written by people who want to get a story up on the site for the publicity. Everyone is trying to build their platform, and the HuffPo is the place to do it. So, if you’re a shrink who wants more patients and recognition, you post a story about the ten signs that your daughter or your dog is depressed. If you’re a bon vivant who wants to get a free meal from a fancy restaurant, just post a “review” on HuffPo. Travel junket? Act like an expert, and write about how the hotel that paid your way is the top hotel on the island, with the best food.
There is no such thing as “objective” journalism, but there are standards in journalism, and there are none on the Huffington Post.
Sure, the trend has been toward free content, and we have yet to come up with sustainable models for providing Internet content that people will pay for. We have trained people to expect journalism for free. Some sites, at least, do what they can to counter the trend; when I write for the Daily Beast, at least I get a check big enough to cover some portion of my rent. In these days, when career journalists like me are making less money than they did in, well, the 1980s, that’s not perfect, but it’s at least something. It’s a nod to the fact that reporting and writing are skills, and that in order to get quality, you have to pay for it.
HuffPo recently launched a women’s site, dedicated to the secular spiritual and self-improvement stories that we’re all familiar with. The New York Observer reports that Huffington is paying Marlo Thomas—yes, that girl—a million dollars to be the face of the site. All Arianna’s money is being put toward encouraging celebrity culture. What the hell has Marlo Thomas done since she published “Free to Be You and Me?” Not much writing, that’s for sure.
What if you gave that million dollars to real journalists? Maybe they could do something more than recycle press releases. They could do some reporting about women’s health, environmental and financial issues that affect women, ways that women are still struggling for some parity after all these years. Maybe they could write something worth reading.
Arianna, degrading journalism means degrading our democracy. Reducing journalists to unpaid content providers lowers everyone’s standards. That’s completely at odds with the political views you espouse, but not, perhaps, the financial ones. Unless you walk the walk your talk is just talk.
I urge all professional writers to boycott the Huffington Post. And everyone else to insist on and pay for quality journalism.