The results of a recent survey conducted by the UCSB Carsey-Wolf Center indicate that bloggers for The Huffington Post are dissatisfied with AOL’s $315 million purchase of the online news outlet on February 7.
The Center interviewed 60 of the site’s most frequent blog contributors and analyzed over 500 press reports and blog postings related to the merger to determine that 96 percent of bloggers believe their work is equal to or more valuable than those of The Huffington Post’s editors and curators. Although AOL paid Huffington Post staff members a share of the merger’s proceeds, 69 percent of bloggers argue that they should also receive a portion of the money.
According to English professor Christopher Newfield, one of more than 9,000 freelance writers for The Huffington Post, the buyout marginalized the blogs’ contributions to the site.
“HuffPost bloggers were shocked because what they saw that a group effort was turned into cash for a small subset of the top people,” Newfield said. “Unfortunately, this is quite common.”
The survey also indicated that a portion of the bloggers believe The Huffington Post should develop a flat rate payment system for website contributors.
Newfield said bloggers’ unique status in the workforce reflects the disconnect between employee contributions and compensation stemming from changes in information technology.
“Universities, websites, newspapers and laboratories need to compensate regular employees for the value they create,” Newfield said. “This is an especially important issue for current college students, who can no longer assume that they will be treated right just because they worked hard to get a good education.”
The study also identified a dispute over the distinction between a blogger and a journalist, according to film and media studies professor Michael Curtin.
“What we also found in our study was that many leading bloggers are former journalists, so it’s hard to say exactly what a blogger is,” Curtin said. “What concerns me is that bloggers are often considered quirky opinionators, which in some cases is true, but overall it has the effect of denigrating their work and making them more susceptible to exploitation. The bloggers we surveyed want to be recognized as creative professionals, and that’s the main reason why they would like to get paid, even if it’s a small amount.”
According to the study, Huffington Post bloggers did not write for other news sources because they believed the website would pay them for their work.
Curtin said the survey highlights the larger issue of fairly compensating employees for their contributions.
“Some bloggers want a share of the $315 million, but most just want HuffPost to come up with an equitable and transparent system for paying them for their future contributions,” Curtin said. “The technology to pay bloggers already exists. In fact, the folks from [social payment service] Kachingle met with HuffPost last December and pitched their pay system. They offered it at no cost to HuffPost, but HuffPost executives balked because they thought the system would encourage bloggers to think they should be paid. Well indeed, bloggers should be paid. Unfortunately, HuffPost has a very exploitative attitude towards their bloggers.”