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Huffpo/AOL Reaction: It’s About Freelancers

So far the reaction to the Huffington Post/AOL merger fall into a couple of different groups:

Anti-corporate reactionists: They don’t trust anything or anyone making money. They were already suspicious of Huffpo and then a giant corporation bought them. To anti-corporate reactionists the merger is just further proof for their already held beliefs. Their only news sources are alternative and if you’ve heard of it – it’s too mainstream. In a way they are happy about the Huffington Post AOL deal because it gives them fodder.

The Toldjas (sorry Nikki, it’s not copyrightable): As in “toldja Arianna only cared about her bank account” and “Toldja she was a Republican.” They are the “I never liked that site” people. They are the “It’s always been a digital tabloid” people. Yes, they’ve been waiting patiently on social networking sites for the opportunity to pronounce themselves as never liking anything so therefore they’re right about some things. Right-wingers also fall into this category. They’ve never liked Huffington Post and now take joy in saying “TOLDJA!”

Celebrities, interest groups and Huffpo staff: Bill Maher said it best on Twitter, “Awesome! Arianna Huffington – a close personal friend of mine – now controls Mapquest! Sweeeet!” The interest groups and celebrities who use Huffpo as a platform are the ideal Huffpo bloggers: paid by someone else. They’ve all been thrilled by the merger. Thrilled and if you’re on staff at Huffpo, a bit defensive.

The independent unpaid bloggers: They’re the only ones who have anything interesting to say on the merger. They’re at the root of what everyone has been talking about. It’s their opinion that matters. These are people who mostly don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because they’ve never really been “employed.” Tina Brown coined a term for it, Giganomics. These aren’t “citizen journalists” implying blogging is an avocation. They’re not blogging hobbyists. They are a small group (readers of this site and Mediabistro in general) who make a living “producing content.” Tons of THEM had an account at the Huffington Post among other places. They write full-time and get paid sometimes. When you’re this type of freelance writer, platform in lieu of pay is your deal with the devil. Yes, you get your name out there, but then your name is out there as willing to work for free. For the first five years of Huffington Post, the site wasn’t profitable. No one was making any money and the few staff hired weren’t making much. So, as a blogger it was the proverbial getting in at the ground level. Then suddenly Huffington Post had real value – $315 million to be exact, but those in the gig economy, those freelancers who made Huffington Post noteworthy – their value was the only one that stayed the same. They got in at the bottom and are still there. Proof that a rising tide doesn’t not, in fact, lift all boats.

Those are who we’ve been hearing from. Most of them will not go on the record for fear seeming disgruntled will be a turn off to future gigs. Because when you’re a freelancer, the laws against discrimination don’t apply. You’re never hired, so you can’t be fired – you just get ignored…which when your rent is due feels like the same thing.

These freelancers have told us they are angry, but they’re not saying anything. Most of them are just quietly not posting. Will there be people still happy to post for billion dollar corporation for free? Probably. Especially the ones subsidized by other entities. But with the slight of not giving independent voices value, Huffpo lost a lot of them.

Of course, we had to ask long time Huffpo blogger Andy Borowitz if he will continue to post in the wake of the merger. His response was the best yet, he told FishbowlLA, “I will give you an answer if you will pay for it.”

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