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Quite the World, Isn't It?

HuffPo and FB: Two different sorts of plantations

There's an interesting column in the New York Times this morning by media writer David Carr looking at the absurd valuations for companies like Facebook and Twitter on the heels of Huffington Post's agreement to be swallowed up by AOL.

Carr is usually a pretty astute critic, but I think he missed a crucial differentiation here. He argues, correctly, that Huffington Post ratcheted itself to the value of $315 million on the unpaid work of thousands of bloggers, and perhaps to a bigger extent by doing little more than aggregating the paid-for output of professional media organizations.

If that's not outright thievery, it's pretty close. And, to me, highly unethical. HuffPo breaks very little news, and does very little reporting. It's a parasitical relationship with the mainstream media, and Arianna Huffington has been richly rewarded by it.

Facebook and other social media venues are different beasts, though Carr lumps them together with HuffPo. The difference is intent. HuffPo intends to draw readers to its aggregated links and bloggers. Facebook's intent is to give users a forum with which oi interact with each other. Both sell ads on the side, and thus generate significant cash. But Facebook isn't drawing people with content in the way HuffPo is. It's drawing users - and eyeballs for advertisers - by giving them a forum through which to interact with friends, not by publishing their content. It's the difference, I think, between publishing a newspaper with purloined or unpaid content, and operating a coffee shop, where your customers hang around in your space and socialize.

That's a much more legitimate business model. It's not objectionable on ethical grounds. Huffington Post, on the other hand, is. And all the more so because of the political outlook of the site. There's something deeply suspicious about an ostensibly politically liberal organization so devaluing the works of individuals, and of journalism as a profession.

Maybe what HuffPo needs is a strong union.
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