M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

Huffington Post UK and Why It’s Not ‘Authentic’ to Pay Journalists

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Stephen Hull, the editor of The Huffington Post United Kingdom, appeared Wednesday on BBC Radio 4’s “The Media Show.” It did not go well.

The peg for Hull’s appearance was Kate Middleton’s campaign to raise public awareness for children’s mental health issues. The duchess wrote a post for the site and spent the day as its guest editor.

The interview starts off well enough. Host Steve Hewlett — who, like many media critics, doesn’t appear to understand that pixels are unlimited and that there’s room on the Internet to serve all tastes — asks Hull about some of the site’s clickbait content, like listicles about cute animals. Hull knocked that one out of the park, noting that it’s quite possible to “do the serious and the silly in the same place.”

(Disclosure: I’ve written hundreds of light features about weird crime and the unusual adventures of animals, so I’m predisposed to side with Hull.)

But then Hewlett goes into the site’s finances. Asked whether the site makes money, Hull replies: “The Huffington Post UK does, yeah. We’re a profitable business. Those figures are out there.”

Hewlett interrupts to say such figures are available for the site’s parent division but that the show couldn’t find any financials broken out for Huffington Post UK specifically. Hull’s response: “OK, well, you know, I don’t have those figures with me right now. But maybe we can go over them and I’ll come on and talk about them again.”

Then Hewlett’s last question: Why doesn’t Huffington Post UK pay its thousands of contributing bloggers?

Here’s the exchange:

Hull: “I love this question, because I’m proud to say that what we do do is we have over 13,000 contributors in the U.K., bloggers — the duchess is now one, as is Michelle Obama [as] of this morning.”

Hewlett: “So are you paying them, then?”

Hull: “No, we haven’t paid them. But, you know, if I was paying someone to write something because I wanted it to get advertising pages, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. So when somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real. We know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

Here’s the audio clip:


OK, then.

It sounds like a canned answer. If it is, Hull should put it back up on the highest shelf he can find and never, ever bring it down again.

I don’t know whether Hull himself is paid. I would presume he is not, because if it’s not “authentic” to pay someone to provide content to generate ads, it’s equally inauthentic to pay someone to commission and edit that content.

I would also presume that none of Huffington Post UK’s full-time staff writers are paid.

As I write this, the site’s lead story, about Labour Party designs on scrapping the Trident submarine, is a well-researched reported piece based on its acquisition of a leaked document.

The byline is Paul Waugh. He’s the site’s lead political reporter. I can only assume Mr. Waugh spent many hours chasing down the document, researching U.K. defense documents and drafting the 864-word article to soothe his charitable impulses, because the piece is accompanied by three ads (there’s also one at the bottom of the very long right rail, which I couldn’t fit in a legible screenshot), so it would not be “authentic” to pay him:

Huffington Post UK lead story 18 Feb. 2016

(Final disclosure: NBC News pays me for my work. I consider my work authentic. I assume Paul Waugh considers his work authentic. This may be an inauthentic opinion.)

Written by Alex

February 18, 2016 at 2:08 pm

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