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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Huffington Post sells out their journalistic soul: free content for free advertising

My friend Ted was whispering in my ear that the future of the freelance writer career is dead. Free content is the wave of the future. This description from a viral marketing web site says it all: "when you write articles (for free) for another website, they’re happy to give you a backlink in the byline in return for your content."
Get it? Free content=Free advertising. Doesn't sound too harmful until you visit a major news source like Huffington Post and find journalistic standards are being thrown out the window in exchange for free content. Consider this anti-ADHD post that masquerades as an editorial but is really just an add for the author's product.
This post is wrong on so many levels. Don't even get me started about how tired I am about hearing that ADHD is a myth and that I'm being a lazy parent because my daughter takes ADHD meds. (I wrote a comment on the blog that is still in moderation as I post this response.) That's a whole nother post!
Huffington Post is positioning itself to be a liberal on-line news publication. I bet I'm not alone in expecting it to hold up the same journalistic standards of any other news source. Sure it's got a left-leaning bias, but we know that as sure as we know Fox is leaning right. However, I still expect a modicum of scientifically-based standards for all content that appears on the site. Or at a minimum a clearly stated reader advisory that the content was provided in exchange for back links.
My first impression when I visited the post was that it was an independent author, not one pimping his product. If this represents the "journalistic standards" of Huffington Post then we should all be concerned about the future of democracy in this country. I know that sounds extreme, but our nation relies on the free press to separate factual information from editorial opinion. This post inappropriately blurs the boundaries between journalism and advertising.
Congress passed legislation that bloggers have to disclose when they have been paid to review a product. I don't see why content in exchange for links shouldn't also be included in this legislation.
We all must speak up if we want to preserve our standards of media and reporting. Haven't they eroded enough all ready?