The ink on the papers of AOL’s February acquisition of the Huffington Post is still fairly fresh, and the many changes that AOL has made to the internet media group are even fresher. Through a series of restructuring, streamlining, and re-branding, AOL is working to create a next-generation media source that combines editorial content and social experiences. But that doesn’t come without controversy. The restructuring of the media group has created quite the stir-up of emotions. One main discussion is the hiring of full-time employees and reduction of use in freelance writers.
AOL intends to hire as many as 800 full-time employees at a local level for news operations across the country for Patch, the post’s news site that focuses on local content. The good in this situation: it creates many new jobs, stimulates local economic growth, and shows movement toward a new form of and engaging news medium. Currently, Patch serves 19 states and 800 communities, and formerly ran off of freelance writers. As AOL works to expand the medium, they may hire up to one full-time journalist per Patch site, which is great growth for local communities as it is creating jobs that may not have otherwise been available. The changes that the Patch news site will continue to see drive dinner table conversation and welcome connectedness, as well as heighten the social component by incorporating even more blogging and commentary elements.
However, this also means bad news for current AOL and Huffington Post freelancers, many of which the new hires will and have already eliminated. The impact has already been seen by 200 of AOL’s full-time employees that were laid off in the United States, plus additional support that historically has come from India. Under the new structure, all of the freelance writers and editors who have worked at the various blogs under the Huffington Post, including MapQuest, Moviefone, Engadget, and TechCrunch, will no longer be needed. With the full-time staffers producing content, the work can be done in-house, and the post will not have to pay independent contractors by the pieces they write.
The Huffington Post is now being sued by a former contributor on behalf of all bloggers, as he believes that the content they contributed to the publication accounts for a third of the value of what AOL bought the medium for. This lawsuit could get ugly, but it will be interesting to see the outcome. I agree that the writers should be rewarded for their work, and am aware that the Huffington Post is well-known for not paying writers who contribute work for free because it gives them a platform from which to make their voices heard. However, it is important to realize that there is a distinction in unpaid bloggers and paid writers. Here is an informative piece on the economics of it all.
All said and done, the acquisition has its good, but with good comes bad and ugly. What are your thoughts on the new jobs and lost jobs? When it comes to unpaid contributed posts, who do you think is benefitted, the person whose work is published and seen or to the publication itself?