While I was at the Nonprofit Technology Conference this week in Washington DC, much of my brain was focusing on learning and absorbing the information and experiences being related by the jillion or so speakers who were sharing their best practices, case studies and tips for running nonprofits in the age of technology. But a few other issues made their way into my consciousness, including an interesting TechCrunch piece about why women rule the internet (upshot - we're more social and we wield tremendous shopping power), and the call by the Newspaper Guild (what's a newspaper?) to HuffPo bloggers to strike, "in response to the company’s practice of using unpaid labor."
In response to the Huffington Post’s refusal to compensate its thousands of writers in the wake of its $315 million merger with AOL, the Newspaper Guild has requested a meeting with company officials to discuss ways the Huffington Post might demonstrate its commitment to quality journalism. Thus far, the request has been ignored.
Dan Abrams, writer and owner of Abrams Media, struck back against the Guild (in MediaBistro):
But why the public cry for a strike now? What happened last week? [...] Maybe, in the words of the Newspaper Guild, because the outcry comes “in the wake of its $315 million merger with AOL.” Ah. So it’s the fact that Huffington Post now has a distinct and clear numerical value?
Yes, of course it is. Writers can only write for free for so long - when no one is paid, it's still not exactly an ideal journalism situation, but at least it's equitable. Many of us have worked for independent publications where the company mantra is that "we're all volunteers, and we're here because we think the work is important." That's all great, except it's not a sustainable career model for most non-independently wealthy writers.
As journalism evolves, there are going to be casualties, whether they're the newspapers themselves, the editors or the writers, and probably, all three. Abrams writes that “it’s also true that aggregation has had a disastrous effect on newspapers and I believe journalism as a whole,” but that “with or without Huffington Post, newspapers would be suffering the precise fate they are today.”
Yes, journalism (and media in general) is in a transitional moment, and the viable models - fair to management and professionals alike - are still elusive. But when the people at the top make millions, and the people at the bottom, the base of the pyramid, the foundation on which the media empire was built, get nothing, not even a meeting with the leadership to discuss ways in which the entirety of the staff could be happier and more professional - there's a problem with the organizational culture.
The HuffPo's first iteration seemed to mostly ignore the social web's culture of conversation, but eventually expanded to create space for conversation that everyone - not just Arianna's celebrity friends - could contribute to. We can only hope that in the aftermath of the big $315 million-merger, the management will realize the value of the people who helped build conversation, journalistic content and overall reputation online and pay them - if not their due and true value, then at least a wage that indicates appreciation of their professional contributions and gratitude at their roles in creating an entity of journalistic value.