Since I groused about Arianna Huffington's business model over at Romenesko's Medianews (nutshell: writers work for free while Arianna sells ads), Huffington Post Chicago has made its début. It's the first of many localized sites that Ms. Huffington is planning as online Internet newspapers of sorts, featuring a mix of ruminations from her celebrity pals (Chicago already has essays by John Cusack and Saturday Night Live guy Fred Armisen) and local content gathered from other unpaid sources.
Armisen's contribution isn't likely to dim misty cigar-smoky memories of Mike Royko:
Public transportation is really good in Chicago. Travel tip: to get a nice view of the city, take the Brown Line.
And I love the chocolate made by Vosges, which is based in Chicago. They make these really crazy chocolate bars -- and not the dumb kind of crazy. I mean the brilliant kind of crazy. They actually make a chocolate bar with BACON! Is there anything yummier?
Is Armisen kidding? Is Arianna kidding? I read better, more informative stuff on any neighborhood blog in town. Hell, I read better stuff on the bulletin board outside my building's laundry room. As for Cusack's musings, a blogger calling himself "So-Called Austin Mayor" noted:
And the HuffPoChi's inaugural post repeatedly misspelled the name of a former member of the Chicago Bulls -- a fella named Michael Jordan.
Michael Freakin' Jordan!
I guess if you don't need to pay writers, you don't need to pay copy editors either.
Right now on the front page of HuffPost Chicago, the writing is more professional. Unfortunately, it's also less original: a writeup of Bernie Mac's funeral and a Cubs story (both taken straight from the AP), and a bunch of links from the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, Chicago Business, and other papers.
In other words: professional newsgathering organizations have paid professional writers to do professional work, and then Arianna comes in, creates links to their creations, and sells ads on her own page. How progressive.
That's not right. That's beyond not right. That's just The Drudge Report with an Eva Gabor accent.
Think she can't do it in your city? Well, she can, and she intends to:
No, I'll do it here:
2. More pay.
3. Less ripping off writers.
4. Stay the hell out of New Orleans. We've been ripped off enough.
If you're getting the idea this is personal, it is. I've been hired to consult with Gambit, the alt-weekly here in New Orleans, and I'm working on their Web site, Blog of New Orleans (aka Gambit Daily). We're introducing guest bloggers on the site (bloggers, it should be noted, whose work kicks the shit out of Messrs. Cusack and Armisen) and the first rule was: guest bloggers get paid. (Not much, but they get checks, fill out tax forms, the whole W-9 yards.) I wouldn't be asking them to do it otherwise -- I've been agitating for years against the cruel hoax of "writing for exposure," and I believe what writers do is worth money. And respect.
And speaking of respect: peep out what the progressive HuffPost folk did to Marilyn Ferdinand, one of their many "unpaid citizen journalists" or whatever they call them. Marilyn came across my anti-HuffPo letter and had an experience of her own:
The Huffington Post-Chicago premiered today. The comments thread under the site's introductory post were very positive, thrilled that Ms. Huffington chose our terrific burg to splash down in. That'll teach New York and Los Angeles who The Second City isn't! I thought I'd like to greet HuffPo a little differently by posting Allman's letter with my own comments. I'm still a registered HuffPo blogger from my brief stint with OfftheBus, so it should have gone up unmolested. It didn't. I watched the "Comments Pending" number carefully, seeing it go up and down and eventually reach zero. Strangely, my post didn't appear. I wrote another post that said HuffPo was censoring my comment, and it didn't appear. I tried another approach and responded to another comment with information that HuffPo doesn't pay its writers. It didn't appear either. I sent a final comment announcing my intention to write about this disgraceful disregard for working people and the censorship that seemed to be underway to ensure a lovefest for HuffPo's entry into the Chicago market.
I don't agree with Marilyn that it's "censorship" -- the Huffington Post is privately owned, and the editors can do whatever they like with the comments. But it's damned amusing that a "progressive" site neither pays its writers nor brooks dissent among the unpaid.
When my letter appeared on Medianews, I heard from a couple of professional journos who said the same thing: "Good for you" and "Oooh, you took on Arianna Huffington." Took her on? What's she going to do, not pay me to not write for her?
So I'll close here by throwing down. I have an interview request in for Arianna with Mario Ruiz, her VP of media relations. We'll see if she'll talk to me for free.
In the meantime, if any professional writers want to join in here, feel free to do so in comments. Let's get this party started. Journalism -- and journalists' jobs -- are already on life support.
DO NOT WRITE FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST FOR FREE.