Hacks have long feared being replaced by upstart citizen journalists. Back in 2007 Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, described how journalists he met at a tech conference felt about UGC. He said a quarter were angry, typically thinking:
“I hate blogs and all forms of new media. They are low quality and have nothing to add of worth”
while another quarter thought:
“I’m worried that my industry is dying, I can’t get freelance work because publications are using free user generated content instead.”
Although Rowse does add that a good half were interested in incorporating UGC into their work, this half felt distinctly embattled.
Those fears must have abated this week following the news that The Huffington Post, under its new ownership by AOL, is only interested in employing professional journalists.
An article in TechCrunch on Wednesday reported that Peter Goodman, HuffPo’s business and technology editor, only invited freelancers with qualifications and credentials to apply to become staff, not those without. He apparently justified the position saying:
“We can’t replace professional journalism with an ad hoc blogging arrangement….we don’t want to confuse professional journalists with bloggers.”
“I don’t think user-generated content is the way people live their lives.”
A biting irony for a man who has just bought a site built from the ground-up by bloggers, citizen journalists and user-generated content. AOL paid $315million for the Huffington Post, which at the time of sale employed only 183 paid journalists yet attracted nearly 25 million unique monthly visitors. Indeed, Sabbagh writes:
“Her [Huffington’s] success has contributed to something of a backlash from the small army of unpaid bloggers who contributed to HuffPost before the AOL deal and were rewarded with nothing.”
That small army ranks at around 6,000 unpaid bloggers. One of them, Mayhill Fowler, anticipated this move in September 2010 when she stopped writing for the site. She wrote to Roy Sekoff, HuffPo founding editor:
“I have this last year gone out and done actual reportage. I’m no longer going to do that for free. I’ve paid my dues in the citizen journalism department; I’m a journalist now… So if you can’t find a place for me doing some kind of paid reporting, it’s goodbye”
And goodbye it was. Fowler adds on her blog that Huffington “was milking me for everything she could get before letting me go”. And now her resentment is being felt by many more. Last Thursday the Newspaper Guild, a journalist union, called for HuffPo bloggers to go on strike over “the company’s practice of using unpaid labor” which they called “unprofessional and unethical”. The strike has won much support.
For all the talk of citizen journalists stealing jobs, it looks like the tables are facing the other way. In an industry saturated by wannabes, media organisations are being strict about who they let in. Now it seems if you want a payslip, you’ll need a certificate first.