Paid And Unpaid Labor As Complements At The Huffington Post

Erik Loomis castigates “the progressive blogosphere and young progressives in general” for a “lack of concern over labor” as evidenced by, for example, our lack of interest in the union-sponsored boycott of the Huffington Post over its use of a mix of paid and unpaid labor. So I’ll pay heed to the issue, though I won’t be boycotting anything. I’ll just start with the observation that there’s something ironic about a college professor writing a blog post for which he presumably wasn’t paid in order to castigate the practice of unpaid blogging.

Those of us who write or a living on the internet might well benefit from a rule banning amateur content creation online. No more professors giving opinions on political issues away for free! No more videos of cute cats on YouTube! Heck, no more Wikipedia! More traffic for me! What’s not to like? Obviously there are free speech problems with trying to legally ban amateur internet writing. But should we boycott all free internet writing? My view is that we shouldn’t, even if Wikipedia is reducing the demand for unionized teamsters to deliver physical encyclopedias.

But if we’re not going to object to free Internet writing in general, then what’s the problem with mixing free and paid writing on the same site? It seems to be the case that in the Huffington Post’s model, these things are complements. When Gary Hart has something he wants to say, he gains access to a large web audience by posting his thoughts on the Huffington Post rather than launching a Gary Hart Tumblr. But when you read Gary Hart’s item, you’re subjected to all the HuffPo navigational tools urging you to click onto other HuffPo stories. The item not only generates a modest amount of traffic on its own, it creates some “spillover” traffic to other Huffington Post items. The spillover traffic increases the value of the Huffington Post’s paid reporters and editors, and even the non-spillover traffic increases the value of the Huffington Post’s technical and business staffs.

The idea is perhaps that it’s wrong for some people (AOL shareholders) to be profiting from the unpaid work of Gary Hart. But there’s no way for Gary Hart to express his views on the Internet without someone profiting from it. All the blogging platforms are for-profit firms that want people to use them. And that’s to say nothing of the telecom firms and search engines who are all glad that the Web is full of all this free content that people want to read. Ultimately nothing is ever DIY enough to entire separate itself from the entire chain of capitalist production.