In all the media buzz about the AOL deal with The Huffington Post, one issue keeps coming up that makes no sense to me. Will Huffington Post bloggers still submit their work for free when HuffPost founders just made a lot of money on their investment?
As a fairly regular blogger on HuffPost*, I can expertly say three things. I make no money from blogging, and I don't resent it; I don't intend to stop, and I don't agree with critics who challenge the current model.
In fact I am only going to be unhappy if they stop taking my posts. News flash to the New York Times -- every op-ed submission you receive would still want you to print their column even if you didn't pay the $150 bucks!
The fact is that for part-time opinion writers to be successful, we need platforms. We want our voices to be in the conversation of the day, and we need sites with a LOT of traffic to be effective in doing that.
I bow in homage to full-time opinion writers who work for or have contract deals with media outlets. Theirs is an honorable profession, and I would never suggest that they want to work for free. I am all about content creators having a choice about how to distribute their content. And as a contract political analyst for CNN, I believe that it is important to recognize professionalism in the field. I often write on CNN.com without getting paid for it as well because it is a critically important news platform. But, and this is a deliberate strategy, opinion is not a big highlighted feature of their website.
But when a story is moving or an issue bursts from your heart and you just have to get it out, The Huffington Post has always been a place that welcomes the here and now of your thoughts. And they get it up fast. They don't edit my thoughts. And unlike almost every media outlet, they don't even edit the length -- though some of my posts could use some I'm sure.
Indeed, my favorite moments on HuffPost are when I have written something and it sparks another post in disagreement -- or in agreement, but with another tangent. There is nowhere else online where this live dialogue exists so efficiently and effectively. Current placement is very egalitarian. Blog posts shift frequently, front page to vertical and back. The only test is whether it is popular. Is it getting read? Are there a lot of comments? Are people excited to participate? They have the technology to determine all of those things, and that is why the entire site feels like it is newly relevant every time you hit refresh. Arianna and the editors' challenge with AOL is going to be to keep the conversation as alive on the front AOL page and the other verticals.
Frankly, I don't see that exposure for a diversity of voices on any other site featured with so much enthusiasm. And that is why so many "famous" people blog. That is why when someone big has something to say, HuffPost is often the place they say it -- un-edited, in their own words -- not fearful of a shortened interview or a misunderstood and out-of-context comment.
I say on to the next level -- take my voice and send it to the more than 100 million AOL users a month. Far from feeling exploited, as a HuffPost blogger, you feel you are actually in the game.
*Full disclosures. I was political director of The Huffington Post for 2008 and editor at large from 2009 to 2010, and that is how I know how it works and how decisions are made to support bloggers. But I have no stock and I currently receive no compensation for my blogging.