Tim Rutten's op-ed column in the L.A. Times tomorrow gives Arianna Huffington, the Huffington Post and AOL their due for what they do right, journalistically. But he also skewers some of the less praise-worthy realities. AOL's Patch, for instance, gets its best stories from recently unemployed journalists who do stories "out of idealism or desperation," paying them "about what beginning reporters at major newspapers were paid three decades ago."
As for the Huffington Post, Rutten gives it credit for being "a new-media marvel of ingenuity, combining a mastery of editing geared to game the search engines that stimulate Web traffic and overhead that would shame an antebellum plantation."
The bulk of the site's content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they're devoted. Most of the rest of the content is "aggregated" — which is to say stolen — from the newspapers and television networks that pay journalists to gather and edit the news.
The Huffington Post is a brilliantly packaged product with a particular flair for addressing the cultural and entertainment tastes of its overwhelmingly liberal audience. To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates....
The term sweatshops comes up.