The August rollout of Huffington Post – AOL’s “Black Voices” was not a good thing for those who want to see, well, more black voices on the internet. Just like corporate commercial black radio and TV, the “black perspective” of corporate internet sites like theRoot.com (owned by the Washington Post), theGrio.com (an MSNBC production), and Huffington-AOL’s Black Voices does not recognize African Americans as a polity or community with our own traditions and opinions. To the corporate media owners they are just another market to be sliced, diced and delivered to the highest bidder.
Ask yourself why HuffPo founder Ariana Huffington was able to unload Huffington onto AOL for $315 million earlier this year. How do buyers expect to make that money back?
The answer is that when you access Huffington Post from your computer, its marketing backend hooks with your FaceBook and/or Twitter and Google IDs to marketing databases which instantly know who you are, how much you make and spend, and what your entire online history is. If you’re using a mobile device the marketers also know exactly where you are. The marketing backends at places like HuffPo (or theGrio or theRoot) can auction off the right to advertise to you in tenths of a second based upon these factors, and let the web site and the winning bidders decide what they want to show or keep from you based on their extensive histories of your online habits. This is the corporate marketing machinery that generates the millions to pay HuffPo’s bills and investors.
HuffPo AOL’s content model depends largely upon the free labor of bloggers, many of whom are activists in local democratic struggles around the country. They are supplemented by a platoon of corporate PR shills and lobbyists, along with a stable of big name but out-of-office Democrats who can afford to write for free. HuffPo won’t say which few of its contributors actually get paid or how much, although it does maintain a large paid editorial staff to carefully filter the work of unpaid contributors.
A few months ago, friends of some Georgia prisoners who got beaten by prison guards after the 2010 inmate strike handed over a story to a writer on how prison guards and wardens were being investigated by other state agencies for the maltreatment of prisoners, and that the first of these had already been indicted, with more to come. For the protection of the prisoners they needed their story before the widest possible audience in a hurry.
The writer with a Huffington Post login wrote and posted it on a Sunday evening, hoping it would get through the editorial filters by some time Monday. It didn’t. Huffington Post editors finally said on Thursday the story just wasn’t a “good fit” for them. Not surprising, from a strict marketing point of view. Black prisoners and their families and friends typically hail from the lowest income parts of our community, and what advertiser really wants to bother with that?
Whoever imagines the addition of a new “Black Voices” section would change that is not thinking clearly. Its executive editor is a former CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network and an ex-president at MTV, and a BET co-founder holds the position of “strategic advisor.” These are people who’ve been filtering and limiting the black conversation on behalf of their corporate cronies for a generation now.
New and exciting Black Voices telling the stories that need to be told? Not really. HuffPo’s Black Voices are just more corporate white noise.