The cost and worth of journalism

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Arianna Huffington’s transition team at AOL has made headlines by firing in one fell swoop the legion of freelance journalists AOL had amassed, in favor of full-timers based in Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles. Many freelancers took offense at the invitation to instead contribute unpaid blogs at In concurrent news, the entire editorial staff of the popular AOL site has quit to collectively create a new tech site for SB Nation, a news service known primarily for sports coverage. SB Nation recently acquired new funding and wants to branch out into other topics and media.

There appears to be no shortage of would-be bloggers submitting to Huffington Post, so at least for the time being, the self-promotion attached to reaching pehaps forty million readers a month on that site may justify writing for free.

For more perspective on the value of journalism, consider the work of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Known for criticizing the Kremlin and exposing brutality and torture in the Russian war in Chechnya, Politkovskaya was murdered in Moscow in 2006. Melville House has released an American edition of her book Is Journalism Worth Dying For?, which includes articles from the last six years of her life. A review in The New York Times states:

[The book] is moving on multiple levels, and one of them is for the glimpse it provides of the writer Ms. Politkovskaya might have been if she had made her career in a different time and place. Her warmth and gregarious humanity flood the margins of this volume, placing the horrors she witnessed in an even more appalling light.

As a last note on journalism news today, Barnes & Noble has announced that a $20/month subscription to The New York Times for the Nook e-reader will also provide full access to the website version of the paper. Kindle, smartphone, and tablet computer subscriptions do the same.