The cart before the horse

Simon Dumenco goes after the selection of Arianna Huffington for the Fred Dressler Lifetime Achievement Award by Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in a biting AdAge commentary. Dumenco writes that a school that teaches budding journalists “should know better than to honor a woman who thinks journalists should work for free!


In Mr. Dumenco’s attack on Ms. Huffington (he congratulates her first, of course), he bitterly chides both the Newhouse School and organizers of the awards for what he clearly believes is a blight on the profession of journalism.

It’s one thing for a journalism school to draw attention to itself — to make a naked grab for the sort of heightened “visibility” Ken Lerer values so highly — by creating a self-referential journalism-about-journalism award. And it’s natural for the organizers of the awards ceremony to align themselves with highly visible media people to attempt to heighten that visibility. But it’s quite another thing to give recognition to people who damage the very profession of journalism.

Huffington damages journalism, in Dumenco’s view, by not paying journalists, and this is the essential problem with his argument, for if money existed to pay journalists, we wouldn’t be having this argument (and many others) in the first place. The money is gone, Mr. Dumenco. It’s gone, and it’s not coming back. No amount of nostalgic wishing is going to bring it back, and any argument based on the notion that it is (or worse, that it’s still there) is just chasing the wind. It’s also sloppy thinking, for if Mr. Dumenco had his way, the only outlets for journalism would be those that paid the writers (a living wage), which is silly when there is no money. No money, no journalism? History says otherwise.

It reminds me of Mark Cuban’s whining about Google and YouTube last week at the D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif. Cuban complained about the unfairness of Google subsidizing YouTube, noting that YouTube wouldn’t exist without the subsidy. Cuban wants a world without subsidies or YouTubes, because then the money of the status quo would have all the fun, including Cuban and his (new found) billions. You’re entitled to make money only if you play by certain rules, in Cuban’s view, and anybody who breaks those rules is, well, cheating. Damn those cheaters at Google!

Same with Mr. Dumenco. He thinks Arianna is stealing journalism without paying for it (cheating), when she’s actually creating a model with a different kind of currency: links. She hasn’t asked, but if she did, I would gladly write for Ms. Huffington, because I recognize that the value of journalism isn’t in what I’m being paid but rather in what I’m saying, and if I can’t find a creative way to pay myself with the kinds of traffic I’d get from The Huffington Post, then the problem is with me, not the lack of money to pay me. Simon Dumenco has the cart before the horse.

Meanwhile, the “publication” is revealing interesting ways to combine and display items to make for a smooth user experience, and who’s to judge the HP of tomorrow by the HP of today?

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