Last Friday Forbes reported that AOL’s Huffington Post Media Group is launching HuffPost High School, a vertical aimed at the teen set.
The site will be edited by a paid 17-year-old but like much of the Huffington Post, content will be produced for free. In this case by unpaid teenage bloggers.
Running with the strategy, AOL will also solicit unpaid contributions from young teens and high schoolers for Patch, its network of 800 hyperlocal news sites.
“We’ll be expanding our sharing platform to teens,” an AOL spokeswoman explains to Forbes using the company’s social vernacular.
Over at AdAge, Simon Dumenco is none too pleased:
Let’s get real here: AOL is not just another benign outlet for aspiring teen writers; it’s not the school newspaper writ large. It is, thanks to its combo with HuffPo, a massive, highly aggressive, cynically SEO’d page-view machine with a history of dubious ethics — and let’s not forget that AOL, despite all its troubles, still had second-quarter revenue of $542.2 million.
Back in February, AOL property TechCrunch reported that Patch “is churning out one piece of content every 9 seconds.” That’s what this is about, folks: churn. Page views. And getting unpaid children to help AOL shovel content — digital coal — into its page-view oven.
Quite simply, AOL/HuffPo intends to monetize the work of minors earning $0/hour. On Patch and HuffPost High School, it will sell ads against content created by minors — but it will not share advertising revenue with those minors.
Self-respecting advertisers have to ask if they really want to be a part of something like this.
Meanwhile, a $105 million class action lawsuit by former unpaid Huffington Post writers continues. So too a Newspaper Guild call for writers to boycott the publication.
HuffPo has long defended its practice of using unpaid contributors by arguing that consenting adults can share their labor in any way they please. True enough, but what happens when your writers aren’t old enough to legally consent?
Writes Jeff Berkovici:
Should teenagers who can’t legally vote, drink or have sex be allowed to decide for themselves what to publish in a place where it could potentially be read by millions of people? What if a 15-year-old wants to write confessionally about having an abortion, as this adult writer did, or joke about smoking marijuana, as this writer did? And what if that 15-year-old’s parent wants to have that posting deleted? And what if that parent is divorced, and his ex-spouse who shares custody gives her permission?
Definitely not something I’ll be participating in. there’s so much wrong with AOL and its associates, and there’s so much opportunity for free enterprise in journalism now that this just seems wholly unnecessary.Source: futurejournalismproject