Amid a turbulent sea that is the modern media landscape, HuffPost’s editor-in-chief, Lydia Polgreen, is attempting to curb the waves with yesterday’s announcement that she’s dissolving its unpaid contributor platform. In its place, the online publishing powerhouse is prudently introducing two new sections, Opinion and Personal, that will feature lifestyle and news-driven content either written or vetted by editorial staff. Polgreen’s ambitious goal, her latest and most groundbreaking since taking over the helm from Arianna Huffington a year ago, is to cut down on the “cacophony of voices that shout for our attention from social media timelines and TV screens.”
Before you start to get indignant over my pro stance (or maybe you won’t, I haven’t taken the temperature on this yet so I could form my own uninfluenced opinion – sensing a theme here?), I considered my take as a both a publicist and a consumer:
When HuffPost came onto the scene as The Huffington Post 13 years ago, it was revolutionary. This was at a time when Facebook and Twitter were babies and crowdsourced content sites like Medium mere pipe dreams, and so the ability to share creative, opinionated content on such a high-traffic platform was an open-ended opportunity for aspiring writers and concerned citizens alike.
Fast forward to this summer, when publicists nationwide read, in wide-eyed horror, freelancer Brian Penny’s byline in Cracked “How I Fake Reviews For Tons of Free Crap.” The title speaks for itself, but he shares in detail how he was able to duck the HuffPost contributor guidelines and take advantage of the site’s popularity and lure brands to send him free product for a phoned in, or sometimes nonexistent, review. I had long respected this platform for previously unheard voices, but the site’s credibility plummeted in my book. The goal of gaining valuable awareness for a client far outshines the appeal of an easy in at a publication like HuffPost if that coverage is going to be purely superficial, and I anticipated the site’s quality and traffic would soon decline as well.
Here at Agency 451, our team has developed long-lasting relationships with some incredibly talented and authentic unpaid contributors to HuffPost, but alongside them, a dark underbelly of freeloaders emerged for the free swag. While HuffPost has remained a top target for many of our clients throughout the site’s decade of evolution, sifting through the writers vs. the freeloaders has added a time suck into our day-to-day that could be more efficiently spent on other facets of our media strategy. I’m hopeful that this move will restore HuffPost as a beacon of quality content that writers worth their salt can continue to participate in, and that we publicists can proudly pitch knowing that the right, well-earned placement will generate valuable awareness and leads for our brands. Better yet, Polgreen even provided a detailed guide on how to pitch the new sections, so no excuses from here on out!
Full disclosure, my uninhibited embrace of this move is partly due to straight up exhaustion. I try to stay well-informed by as many accurate news sources as possible, but I am worn out from attempting to discern fact from fiction in the sheer volume of news and perspectives I’m bombarded with when I just so much as check my email. While I think it’s nearly impossible to remain completely unbiased one way or another in today’s climate, I can certainly respect the intention to try. If Polgreen is offering to devote her staff to the vetting process so I can read opinion pieces on everything from developments in the #MeToo movement to Prince William’s new haircut in peace, then I’m all for it. In Polgreen’s own words “when everyone has a megaphone, no one can be heard,” and if that’s not your thing, there are a multitudes of other megaphones out there.
Do you have thoughts on HuffPost’s decision, or Prince Willam’s new ‘do? (For the record, I am pro.) Leave them in the comments!