Welcome To New Media Slavery



Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of citizen journalism and The Huffington Post and The Huffington Post’s citizen journalism project, OffTheBus. I’m a user and a cheerleader and a content creator for plenty of time-consuming, life-sucking, rather tiring citizen journalism initiatives. I won’t bore you with the details or the self-congratulatory remarks. You can read about them here. Or here.

But Arianna Huffington and Jay Rosen, bless their visionary hearts, are now, or soon will be, accepting awards for OffTheBus right and left (see Arianna’s thank-you letter to her OffTheBus contributors at the jump or here); however, OffTheBus is a grossly flawed business model… because it doesn’t pay the contributors.

Thus, I sure hope no one is considering adopting such a model as a business. Not seriously at least. As something else maybe, but not as a viable business model.

Creating cool, headline-grabbing platforms to harvest the collective mindset is not new media; it is new media slavery. And I for one will not continue to give away my content or my services for free.  I’ll go further to say that any media outlet thinking they’re going to cash-in by soliciting totally free journo-content from Joe Public will be gravely and financially disappointed. (Hear that iReport?)

The increasingly techno-sophisticated masses will soon get very restless for cash for their labors. The people who give enough of a shit to actually pick-up a camera and go out and commit citizen journalism give enough of a shit to soon become pro’sumer grade in their work. Then pro even. Better plan to pay ’em. Lest you’ll be stuck with freebie, amateur crap that an increasingly media-sophisticated public will soon become very restless with – and reject.

AllVoices, another citizen journalism platform, does pay their contributors. Now which would YOU choose?

“Dear OffTheBus members:

We thought the 12,000 people who participated in OffTheBus during campaign 08 would like to know: you’re finalists for a Game Changer award given by the WeMedia Project.  WeMedia’s purpose is saluting innovation. Our purpose today is to thank you — the members of OffTheBus — for opening up the campaign news and commentary “game” by your participation. Thanks for all the writing, reporting, recording, digging, web searching, e-mailing, news scanning, tape editing, expertise-sharing, columnizing, team playing, and eye-witnessing (that’s a partial list…) you did during the project’s 16 months of activity.  You made it happen: the first open platform election coverage team ever assembled by a major news site.

So congratulations to our OffTheBus volunteers and to the OTB staff, led by Project Director Amanda Michel, who was the project’s prime mover since it launched in the summer of 2007; Editorial Coordinator Marc Cooper, who added editorial vision and helped manage the growing list of regular writers; Managing Editor John Tomasic, who handled the page and edited pieces; Neil Nagraj, John’s predecessor, and Associate Editor Hanna Ingber Win, recently involved in all of the above. Our deepest thanks to them, the pros in the pro-am mix we were aiming for with OffTheBus.

It sounds obvious, but you couldn’t sign up and join the reporting staff in the national section of any major newspaper covering the 2008 election the old way. It’s not part of their model to invite the users in. But if you were an interested user of the Huffington Post, you could sign up for OffTheBus.  That’s what we mean by an “open” platform. You can sign up.

The project went live in July 2007 as an experiment designed to cover the amazing presidential election of 2008 – and it succeeded beyond all our expectations (thanks in large part to Amanda Michel’s ability to steer without controlling OffTheBus’s thousands of contributors).  In fact, OffTheBus was such a success that HuffPost intends to make the crowd sourcing and distributed journalism methods developed and honed by OTB during the election an integral part of our editorial process — utilizing them across all of our different sections.

To that end, we are inviting the almost 2,000 contributors who wrote posts for OTB – and everyone else in our HuffPost community who is interested – to become part of the process.  We have created a simple sign up form that will let us know which subject areas you are most interested in.

Soon, we will have a lot more information on how you can get involved in this exciting next phase of Huff Post’s development, but filling out this form is a great first step.

Back in March 2007, when we announced the collaboration between Huffington Post and NYU’s NewAssignment.Net, we said you could “participate in politics by covering the campaign.”

An election, after all, is about participation in a democracy that actually works. It is not about standing by while other people choose a nominee and select our next president. The web was making it possible for more people to participate in the election. In the media sphere, participation had already exploded with political blogging, the rise of YouTube, and the steady growth of online communities.

It seemed clear to us that a more participatory form of campaign coverage was called for in 2008. We were sure it would emerge somewhere on the Net. Why not in a section at the Huffington Post?

Going into the “wide open” 2008 campaign, we knew the mainstream press, despite all pressures it was under, would offer a horse race product, with some issues coverage and certain fact checking features added on. The master narrative would be “who is winning?”  Day-to-day stories would be provided by polls, strategy news, and the usual campaign management follies. Regularly featured material would include profiles and flip flops, gaffes, mistakes, assorted breakdowns in discipline — and attacks. Lots of polls and poll watching. A controversy of the day as the default rhythm, and so on.

We wanted to add to all that. That’s why we picked the name, OffTheBus. Let a distributed, diverse crowd of amateur users with lots of different starting points have a go at campaign news and commentary, seeded by a few pros. Contributors, said Arianna, will be independent…

“focused on their piece of the puzzle, and not what everyone around them thinks. They will be decentralized — spread across the country, with no one on high giving them their marching orders. And they will be as diverse as possible — a mix of campaign insiders devoted to their candidates, neutral outsiders, passionate partisans and steely-eyed observers… The end result will be more sources of information, more eyes and ears focused on a wider variety of subjects, more outside-the-mainstream voices given a platform.” (Arianna Huffington, “New HuffPost Project: The Wisdom of the Crowd Hits the ’08 Campaign Trail“)

The same wave of low-cost, newly practical participation that led record numbers of Americans to give money, and join networks for the candidates, also led 12,000 people to sign up for OffTheBus and participate in politics by covering the campaign. We were proud to be associated with it as co-publishers. And we look forward to continuing on the road to the journalistic future that OffTheBus helped map out.

We’d love to hear from you what Huffington Post could do next to best incorporate our readers into our coverage. Please use the comment thread here to discuss.

Thanks again to everyone who made the journey possible.

Arianna Huffington and Jay Rosen”


3 responses »

  1. Egad. Five minutes poking around AllVoices and it looks like it’s basically a place for people from strange countries to copy and paste a bunch of obscure Reuters and BBC articles.

    Current.com and GroundReport.com also have revenue sharing models. Not sure their standards for original reporting are all that much better — Current is supposed to be more thoroughly vetted before anyone gets paid, but who knows.


  2. Oh I agree. AllVoices is like a herd of goats in the road of citizen journalism. Most posts are just as you describe, and coming from remote tribal areas in Pakistan. I guess that’s what makes it rather, uh, intriguing. I haven’t messed around with Current. Yet. Keep meaning to do that. When I can find a moment from not being paid with all the other crap.


  3. Rise up, young woman! Unshackle your bonds! That glowing-brighter bulb above your head shall lead you out of the “citizen journalism” darkness and into the bright light of paid jobs and solvency.

    Actually, the Huffington Post is a great business model, as long as she can continue to dupe willing folk into contributing their good works for a price that suits her.

    Find me a citizen journalism gig that pays what I’m worth, and I’ll forward you a finder’s fee for your trouble.


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