Arianna’s $100 Million Serfs

What do the unpaid contributors and their commenting audience get from the AOL deal? Apparently permission to keep on doing what they do, still unpaid. As true serfs, they will thank the Manor Born for that permission. Better to get some publicity — they think — than toil in some ‘not part of the conversation’ twilight.

All of us probably know someone or perhaps some have posted items/comments on that site. What we’ve found talking to acquaintances is a weird passive resentment being used mixed with pride that their item is posted. Like a sweating serf beaming after receiving a nod from the carriage as it enters the gates.

Hats off to Arianna for using all those people so ruthlessly and profiting off them so blatantly. With a few minor exceptions, the people we know who post items there deserve that unseemly existential resignation. Some deserve more. We can’t wait to see how the circus will set up shop under AOL. So many serfs wanting to be found.


  1. DrLeoStrauss says

    Dear Moviefone/Cinematical Writers,

    I know there’s been a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of freelancers and your status as a writer for the site. I personally apologize for the lack of communication, but I’ll tell you what I can…

    Sometime soon–this week, I believe–many of you will be receiving an email informing you that your services as a freelancer will no longer be required. You will be invited to contribute as part of our non-paid blogger system . . .

  2. DrLeoStrauss says

    Sign ‘o the times – Arianna gives students lecture on ‘journalism’. If Dante were with us, one can only wonder what level he would assign that.

  3. Tbilisi says

    Good summary, especially re the CV. As you describe, the value of the end product is less and less based on some external criteria (such as quality, originality, or even in many cases popularity) and more and more based on how well product can be used as a tool of social / professional positioning. i.e. from intrinsic value to purely functional (and thus ephemeral) value. Like fucking your own pimp. Necessary from time to time, but if you do it at the expense of actual value creation, relative social positioning won’t save your ass for a minute.

    @Dr Leo Strauss Well said to include academia in this. Most non-ethnographic, non-historical, non-theory building social science scholarship today really amounts to not much more than ephemeral relative positioning strategies, and that which is not is lost in the deluge.

  4. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Good points. There certainly are a few examples of people who hit the lotto following that model and landed visible perches.

    Going back to your original observation that this model is a race to the bottom one wonders how realistic it is to keep on hoping for that elusive jackpot. There’s an opportunity cost involved and hope over experience can take one only so far.

    Your wider point also applies to almost everyone involved in communications, whether it be journalism, academics, pundits or simple bloggers. Everyone competing for self-branding/self-promotion differentiation. Hard to see how this ends well.

  5. anxiousmodernman says


    It just doesn’t seem weird to me that anyone toils over a blog post for free. It is because my generation is more web-saavy that they are willing to do it. We know there are not that many ways to differentiate yourself in general news writing. We have to continue to build our resumes.

    The alternative, not submitting to the Arianna model, is akin to total silence in the web sphere. There’s no web 2.0 platform that doesn’t exploit user input in some way, be it Twitter, Facebook, Google, or whatever. In comparison to these examples, HuffPo looks like a small fry.

    Now, we can say that there’s a difference between a coherent piece of writing on HuffPo and your average status update, and there is. But when TV anchors are reading chat room feeds on live TV, the signal to anyone who might be a journalist is this: work harder, for free, to differentiate yourself. Maybe it’ll pay off someday.

  6. RedPhillip says

    Commentary friend, Obama has a remarkable facility to sound like he’s saying one thing — usually what his audience most wishes to hear — which on closer hearing, an examination of the record and his subsequent actions makes clear his oratory is the political equivalent of trompe l’oeil.

  7. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Professional Republican/Movement social climbers rue the day CPAC encouraged students to attend. Much like Mubarak they despise insolent youth/students. Even if some of the professional social climbers secretly wished they had the guts to shout down Cheney and Rumsfeld.

  8. Comment says

    Obama came out with some artful babble re Egypt – To listen or watch , Obama sounds like he is endorsing the revolution. But if you read the text – there is none of that.
    Tweety – a week ago he was being praised by wingers in Tucker’s caaller blog for expressing anger at Obama for being cold to “our great ally” Mubarak. Now, he has switched – claiming that he just learned about Mubarak’s billions.

  9. Comment says

    Major Clapper gaffe – called the M. Brotherhood secular – IMHO, he is nervous and he is trying to will something by saying it.

  10. Comment says

    Thanks Anon & Leo – bad long links are (along with American social media sites) the primary reason Egypt is revolting.

    Btw – just saw Scheuer on tv opining about the Egypt – though we doubt he knows any more about Egypt than ordinary person. But he probably hopes Suleiman never has to testify to an international tribunal.

  11. Comment says

    In that case -Leo, can you delete that broken link and we’ll repost the corrected one.

  12. Comment says

    IMHO #posthuff makes more sense and would gain better traction than the somewhat unctuous #huffpuff. But what do we know. But ideally ex Huffpo writers should try to dispense with any name derivative of Arianna’s – Otherwise, media will disregard

  13. Anon says


    I never wrote or commented there. Now I know there was a reason for my eerie feelings about her site

  14. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Tbilisi and Comment – should anyone toss 50 cents this way everyone here would be co-venturers, naturally!

    Anxious – nice break down, yeah all reports say 3-4 x revenues tops. It is a grim race to the bottom as you observed. It’s just so weird to see cable talking head types spending hours toiling over a free blog post and somehow feeling grateful for their exploitation. Younger people seem more able to detect the bogus scam.

    Not all are blind. The recent ad buster’s email says it all:

    Arianna Huffington has betrayed us, so let’s huff and puff her house down

    She built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists. She exploited our idealism and let us labor under the illusion that the Huffington Post was different, independent and leftist. Now she’s cashed in and three thousand indie bloggers find themselves working for a megacorp.

    But the Huffington Post is not Arianna’s to sell. It is ours: the lefty writers and readers, environmentalism activists and anti-corporate organizers who flooded the site with 25 million visits a month. So we’re going to take it back.

    We’ll stop going to her site. And we’ll stop blogging for her too. Then we’ll give birth to an alternative to AOL’s HuffPo by using the #huffpuff hash tag to tell the world about our favorite counter-culture websites and indie blogs.

    We are the ones who built the Huffington Post. And now we will be the ones who will huff and puff it down.

  15. Comment says

    Like The Jeffersons – They are movin’ on up.

    [link deleted at request of poster, new new forthcoming]

  16. Comment says

    All us who comment at Leo’s blog are fellow philosophe-aristocrats who scoff at the Mere Commerce of Princess Arianna and her unhappy band of serfs and celebrities.

    Btw – just saw some new cheeseball direct mail from Newt. Newt is a vulture.

  17. anxiousmodernman says

    I have to note that I know a lot of 20 something writers in DC, but the only one I ever knew who wrote for the old AOL News got paid, at least.

  18. anxiousmodernman says

    My opinion? This was a steal for AOL. I recently got into online ad sales (accidental), and given the sums involved they paid 3-4x revenue, tops. An overvaluation, but we’ve seen worse.

    The Arianna model has plenty of legs. Journalism (cough) is undergoing a wholesale de-professionalization, and we have not yet reached the floor on either standards or wages. It’s very unclear what economic sectors will be able to absorb the humanities majors of my generation (ad sales here!). But we’re all still young and we don’t mind living in group houses in Columbia Heights for…too much longer. Do we?

    Think of the Arianna model as functionally similar to the extended period of unpaid or low-paid internships we endure in many professional fields (although in DC it’s an epidemic). The social cost is that these internships naturally select for 1) the already well-off and trust-funded or 2) the especially servile.

    I repeat. We haven’t seen the bottom.

    But or the shareholders HuffPost was a steal.

  19. Tbilisi says

    There is no bounds with what I can do with other people’s ideas.
    -James Joyce (paraphrase)

    Good Doctor, I sincerely hope someone is funneling large sums to the Stiftung in exchange for our writings here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


CommentLuv badge