In Defense of FREE: Why I Don't Care That Arianna Doesn't Pay Me

When you really look at the traffic the average site generates, you see the Web is actually a big lonely place. And without real traffic, you're just preaching in an echo chamber.
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Full disclosure: I've been writing for the Huffington Post since February of 2008. And I haven't made a dime.

You see, Arianna Huffington doesn't pay her bloggers (cue sound of the needle abruptly skating across the vinyl). Not Bill Maher. Not Joe the Blogger. Not me.

To hear the vilifying from some critics you'd think the site was violating child labor laws while simultaneously bringing the downfall of serious journalism. Of course, these haters--some of whom I admire--could easily have an axe to grind with a 21st Century new media baron who grows more influential even as their old media outlets struggle. No one could blame them for not cheering on a write-for-free model while their very jobs become more tenuous each day. Any sign of the mainstream acceptance of FREElance journalism further darkens the already cloudy skies over the entire professional community. Yes, I get it.

And sure, in a perfect world, I'd love to be getting paid for this post. But I have my own agenda and I'm willing to do it for the valuable exposure I get. The HuffPo is full of contributors just like me. Authors write pieces to promote the sale of more books. Consultants opine to grow their franchises. Politicians mount their soapbox because they know their constituents are there. Even starfuckers show up with the hope of having their piece sit next to Alec Baldwin's. We all have own raison d'être for being there. Arianna has assembled the Web's best cocktail party and seemingly everybody wants to be on the list.

To the old media malcontents, I'd say, "How easy is it for me to blog on your site?" The Internets are crowded with millions of voices yearning to be free. FREE! Like most bloggers, I can spend countless hours learning to tune up my site using SEO, SEM, paid search, blah, blah, blah, and still have only a tiny fraction of the monthly eyeballs the HuffPo gets in an hour. That's just the reality of the Web. When you really look at the traffic the average site generates, you see the Web is actually a big lonely place. And without real traffic, you're just preaching in an echo chamber.

But what's probably most infuriating to Arianna's critics is the fact that she simply doesn't have to pay her bloggers. When former generals, chiefs of staff, A-list actors, hip-hop moguls and magazine publishers offer you 500 word missives for free, why change up your formula to hush a few critics?

And, in the end, the free market media economy will drive the HuffPo model to success or failure. If the site can continue to exploit the fervor of writers, marketers, soap-boxers and celebrities, then it can thrive without paying them. But if another outlet (say Tina Brown's The Daily Beast, or Dan Abrams' Mediaite) comes along and can attract the same breadth, level and notoriety of writers--and pay them--that may change the game. I'm perfectly comfortable letting the market--and the personal decision of contributors--decide what ultimately works.

Decrying from the inaccessible halls of corporate media about how the HuffPo is ruining journalism? Just seems like protectionist old think to me. Or jealousy. Plus, Arianna's thousands of contributors and millions of readers don't seem to mind. And no, she didn't pay me to write this.

Posted first for free on my blog.

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