The past few days a number of people have asked me the same question: Are you going to start billing The Huffington Post for your columns? A few others have asked why would you keep posting for free on a site that presumably has just scored a financial windfall. The answer to the first question is a flat no. The reason for that has been amply hashed out by several other HuffPost writers. They have rightly pointed out that HuffPost has given them incredible access, exposure and a small and in a not-so-small way, political clout and influence.
That’s certainly been the case with this writer. But that’s the obvious reason. There’s a bigger reason for applauding HuffPost’s deal with AOL, and the largess it reaped. For the first time a progressive, even left if you will, media entity has actually attained what seemed an absolute impossibility. And that’s a break from the seemingly ironclad monopoly of a mass media that is both dominated by and dependent on corporate conservative and right-wing think tank dollars. It’s a media that has been the relentless gatekeeper and shill for corporate, establishment views, ideology and personalities.
It’s no accident that because of talk radio, major political blogs, websites and Fox News, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have become household names because of the money, power and tight-fisted dominance of their corporate backers. They’ve drowned out any other voices, with even the faintest utterance of liberal, let alone progressive, views from the airwaves and mass audience publications. That is until the Huffington Post came along. It had the wherewithal, creativity and reach to pose a solid alternative to the corporate media cabal. But it also did something that a host of progressive media outlets, publications and sites couldn’t hope to do. It did not just preach to the choir, but actually began to make major inroads into grabbing a share of the wider reading public. It eventually caught the attention of and had a major impact on policymakers of all political stripes.
This was a first that happened because the Huffington Post, in addition to having the right view on the issues, also more crucially had the right business model. It recognized that without an aggressive expansion plan that emphasized — the arts, mass entertainment, yes, even titillation, pop music, sex and frivolity, sports and local news — it would remain just another left cyber rag.
This wasn’t just a case of HuffPost pandering to the raw tastes of the unwashed masses. It recognized that to reach and get the attention of the Oprah and popcorn crowd it had to give them something that appealed to them. It dared to go somewhere and take the heaps of criticism piled on it from the left, as a “sell-out,” “panderer,” “hustler,” “media pimp” and so on that it regularly got for making the site broad and popular.
What was missed in the vilification (and still missed) is that by bringing in readers who wouldn’t typically give a progressive media blog or site the time of day, let alone a look during the day, just maybe some of them might stick around long enough to read the core, provocative political columns and views of progressive writers and analysts — and that included the columns of this writer. It was about preaching to the bigger choir.
Yes, money is important to a writer, and that certainly includes this writer. We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed. But to a media that’s largely locked tight against progressive writers anyway, having a column on HuffPost has proven to be literally worth more than the nonexistent dollars that progressives could never get from the Foxes and Clear Channels that have blanketed the media world. Instead of damning The Huffington Post and Arianna for that, we should thank her for doing the seemingly impossible and taking us along with her.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.