Simon Dumenco, Chris Hedges, and others have pointed out a harsh facet of the Huffington Post (HuffPo) business model; it’s built upon writers who relinquish their labor-value in trade for a platform-opportunity (I’m calling it “Platatunity”). No, it isn’t social capital. Writing free blog posts on HuffPo is a form of advertising; it’s Craigslist, but instead of hawking houses, stuff, or relationships, the bloggers are hawking their potential. They are “HuffPo Hawking.”
The serious bummer though, of all this HuffPo Hawking, is it devalues college-educated employment. The HuffPo has established a mechanism for college-educated middle-class workers to drive down the value of their labor while the HuffPo harnesses their collective labor into greater profits. It’s straight-up Capitalism, but this type of rude mechanism, historically weighed-on the working class, has moved up the economic ladder.
The compounding, angst inducing, factor is these middle-class folks can’t clearly identify what’s happening to them. The middle-class is raised to set their sights further up the ladder, towards their entitled eventual success, and to never look down the ladder. The American economic ladder only goes up! They can’t see past this prejudice and posit that their investment of labor is also a relinquishing of value, an unequal exchange of their labor for “Platatunity.” This disconnect is driving these folks backwards down the ladder.
Compare all of the above to the intern-economy. It turns out most unpaid internships are illegal. The Labor Department provides six specific guidelines that must be met for the internship to be legal. The intern-abuse is so rampant that the Feds were considering a national crack-down last spring.
The current cultural acceptance of “illegal” internships as the gateway to middle-class employment is the foundation upon which HuffPo Hawking is laid. If unpaid labor is becoming normalized within the workplace, and an accepted step towards a career, then the internships don’t need to be legal. They merely need to be re-labeled as unpaid, “junior positions.” This trend leads to one conclusion: the new entry-level middle-class job is unpaid.
Or should it be the other way around?
If these internships are “illegal,” and enforceable by penalty under the law, then HuffPo Hawking, and the trend towards unpaid entry-level employment, is an exploitation of labor, regardless of how it’s packaged or labeled or exemplified as a “Platatunity.” Where are the Feds?
Imagine all those bloggers suing the HuffPo for a return on their investment. Problem is, the NY Times did the math. On average each of these freely contributed blog posts has a value of $13. That’s some incredible irony. College-educated, middle-class people working really hard to gain the rewards of Platatunity equals less than minimum wage.
The solution to the above, and the greater opportunity that was lost here, was for HuffPo to declare a new business model; a spectacular new era in publishing. To shun the manacles of old-media and to become the beacon of the future.
What if HuffPo took some of their monthly revenues and paid a dividend, a residual, to the bloggers? What if HuffPo created an evergreen fund to continue to reward future contributors? Imagine the buzz, the attention, the increased readership and participation! We’d be yelling, “They did it! They’ve found the new model that supports journalism in the digital age!”
Not yet. Maybe it’s not the HuffPo, or AOL, we should be looking to. Maybe in a room somewhere, there’s a handful of sleepless, diligent entrepreneurs plugging away at a new business model that will disrupt the angst and provide the answer so many people are seeking. I hope so.
In the meantime, the HuffPo has pocketed the cash, injected greater instability into the digital content arena, and will continue to drive the value down by throwing labor into the Platatunity fire.
Huffington’s Plunder, Chris Hedges
The Economics of Blogging and The Huffington Post, Nate Silver
HuffPo to Newspaper Guild: We’re not exploiting journalists, Jim Romenesko
Huff and Puff it Down, Adbusters
Are Unpaid Internships Devaluing The Business? Nick Lucido
The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not, Stephen Greenhouse
About Those Unpaid Internships, Rebecca Delaney
ADVISORY: TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT GUIDANCE LETTER NO. 12-09, DOL (review page eight)
and a related post I wrote a year ago: Passing Bucks: NYU/NYTimes & Sucking Wealth From The Bourgeoisie