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Le Huffington Post: hit or miss?

by Joel Ashak February 14, 2012
Le Huffington Post: hit or miss?

Arianna Huffington launched Le Huffington Post Québec on Feb. 8 – Graphic by Katie Brioux

Media mogul Arianna Huffington added the province of Quebec to her online empire last Wednesday, and the 10 bloggers who defected from her ranks shortly before the launch of Huffington Post Quebec did not make her budge.

Almost a year after starting her first international edition in Canada and less than a month after the creation of Huffington Post France, Arianna Huffington is looking to take La Belle Province by storm with an edition that will offer the same type of Internet news and blog aggregating, with content provided exclusively in French. Huffington hopes to see results as promising as the English-Canadian version that attracts 1.8 millions visitors per month and offers posts from bloggers such as David Suzuki and Conrad Black.

As successful as it is however, the Huffington Post is continuously facing controversy. Despite selling her website to AOL for $315 million in 2011, Huffington’s success is still made out of the work of more than 9,000 bloggers she does not pay. One of them is suing her on their behalf for $105 million.

Huffington addressed the growing concerns surrounding unpaid bloggers during a press conference to mark HuffPost Quebec’s launch at the Gault Hotel in Old Montreal last Wednesday.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding about the Huffington Post’s enterprise,” said Huffington to a dozen Quebec journalists. “We offer a platform that presents an exchange of services. The website offers content through skillful writers and we offer them a platform to express themselves.”

Huffington went on to compare blogging for the Huffington Post to tweeting or posting on Facebook. “The HuffPost provides the same type of distribution service,” she said.

Out of the 135 bloggers who were originally supposed to write for Huffington Post Quebec, 10 have so far retracted their offer. Some of them are prominent Quebec figures like MNA and former Parti Québécois member Pierre Curzi, Montreal city hall opposition leader and councillor Louise Harel, and Québec Solidaire spokesperson Amir Khadir.

Khadir’s press officer told The Concordian that the Québec Solidaire MNA did not want to validate the idea that “it’s okay that a ‘for-profit’ media organization [use] unpaid writers to create value for its site.”

Normand Baillargeon, an education professor at Université du Québec à Montréal who also defected from HuffPost Québec, explained that in his case he was not familiar with the Huffington Post before agreeing to write for them.

“When I learned [about the controversy], I immediately retracted my offer,” Baillargeon said. “It was out of question to encourage a firm that exploited its bloggers in such a shameful way.”

During the press conference, Huffington called the bloggers’ defection “a drop in the ocean,” describing the media’s attention on the issue as “people’s love for controversy.”

“It’s not like we sign a contract with the contributors,” she added. “They can write whenever they feel like it and can also stop whenever they want.”

Khadir’s press officer went on to say that the Huffington Post’s business model had a negative impact on journalism as it would result in less paid jobs for aspiring journalists.

Huffington disagreed with such reasoning as she told The Concordian that she saw new media as “the golden age of journalism.”

“Using social media and blogging is almost like auditioning,” she said. “If journalists are not able to get a job right after graduating, which [was] often the case even before the appearance of new media, they now have the new media to have their work out so people get to see how well they write and discover their work.”

Linda Kay, chair of Concordia’s journalism department, agreed with Huffington’s argument.

“The Huffington Post showed itself to be a viable platform,” Kay said. “I think the Post is a precursor of what future journalism is going to look like.”

Kay added that even if Huffington shared her profits with bloggers, the concept for the website was hers and it was up to her to do what she wished with the financial success that ensued.

Jean-Philippe Warren, research chair for the study of Quebec and the only Concordia professor said to be writing for HuffPost Québec so far, also supported the HuffPost’s media platform.

“Posting a blog on the HuffPost is not fundamentally different from publishing an opinion piece, giving a radio interview, or accepting to speak at a public event,” he said. “Every small step that attempts to make knowledge more relevant and accessible is worth saluting.”

During the press conference, Huffington promised local coverage that would reflect Quebec’s political and cultural uniqueness, and assured total transparency, notably on bloggers’ political inclinations.

She also told the press she was already looking into expanding the Huffington Post furthermore, referring to an agreement being currently negotiated with the Qatar-based Arabic news channel Al Jazeera.

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