Get happy. Is Arianna talking total Huff?

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First, a bit of background. The Huffington Post is an online newspaper and it's rather successful. Actually it calls itself a 'news aggregator and blog' - but considering that is less clear than 'online newspaper', we'll stick with the latter. It was founded in 2005 by Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer, Andrew Breitbart and Jonah Peretti. Arianna is Editor In Chief.

Readers of a certain vintage may recall the Athens-born Ms. Huffington was the girlfriend of esteemed journalist Bernard Levin in the seventies. She was also the losing candidate in the 2003 elections for Governor of California (the one that Schwarzenegger won). Arianna has enjoyed a high profile as a writer and socialite for almost forty years. Swinging pretty alarmingly from the right to left of American politics (and back again), she has weathered controversy, scandal, gossip and criticism and emerged largely unscathed with a hefty fortune in tow.

And why should Arianna concern us today? Well, earlier this week she appeared on the BBC's Newsnight to give us her new philosophy and plan for human happiness. First and foremost, she asserted, we should all stop trying to acquire money - there's nothing to be gained in that apparently.

Now this isn't actually a bad point. From MPs' expenses, through the collapse of the world banking system, to cuts to vital public services - money can be a royal pain, and the love of it does tend to be at the root of some terrible shenanigans. In fact, unfettered, free-market, neo-liberal capitalism is a pretty efficient misery delivery system. So the problem isn't the message as much the messenger. Because, as we've seen, Huffington is really rather fond of the old wealth acquisition. So much so, that in 2011 she sold The Huffington Post to AOL for $315m.
Given that she believes money is nothing but a dreadful hindrance on our path to spiritual enlightenment, it's quite surprising she didn't just give her third of a billion dollars to a passing charity and live in a hedge. After all, that would have made her considerably happier than life in her Santa Barbara mansion, right?

The Huffington hypocrisy doesn't stop there, though. The Huff Post has constructed a ground-breaking business model for itself - one that every corporate capitalist would view with envious eyes. It doesn't pay its writers. Just in case you're assuming you misread that, I'll give it to you again: The Huffington Post doesn't pay its writers.

Oh, sure - some big-shot celebrity doing a big-splash guest column picks up a fee, but the vast majority of the site's bloggers, reporters and reviewers earn not a penny.

Here's what blogger Andrew Van Alstyne said in 2012:

"I wrote for (The Huffington Post) during the 2008 election, making the front page a couple of times. I got a nice framed picture with printouts of my top three pieces and a cheerful inscription on the back encouraging me to keep writing more for them. And that was it.
They earned ad revenue and hits from my contribution but I got nothing .... My friend Jonathan Tasini sued (the site) on behalf of the many unpaid writers, but was ultimately unsuccessful, primarily because the writers gave up their content freely.

When HuffPo Detroit started up last year, I was invited to submit material to them. I told them that I was no longer writing for free and that I would be happy to work out an arrangement to provide them with content if they would be willing to pay me. But, no, that was not their plan. As usual, they wanted me to simply give them my writing in exchange for 'exposure'."

Far from being an exception, Andrew's experience is the norm for Huffington writers. At first, they naively imagine a byline on such a prestigious publication will enhance their career and they'll make money further down the line. Then, slowly it dawns on them - they are actually being outrageously exploited and so they leave. Of course, The Huff Post don't much mind as there appears to be an inexhaustible supply of these poor saps.

This probably explains why an online newspaper, with literally millions of readers, is riddled with typos, spelling mistakes and grammar errors. If you pay peanuts (or indeed, no peanuts), you get a less than perfect product.

So the next time some cheeky chancer suggests you do a rake of unpaid work, because 'it will give you lots of great exposure', remember who made that notion an acceptable proposition.

And be grateful you don't have a fortune like Arianna's. It would only make you unhappy.

Magnus Shaw is a (paid) blogger, writer and consultant.




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