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HuffPo goes UK: But shills and pols writing for free isn't new

'I once got 800 words in the Sport as a 50ish Spanish lady'

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So HuffPo UK has launched and, my word, it is the future of journalism, isn't it? New, fresh faces telling us about the world in new and interesting ways...

Online, centre left, news and views galore: sounds like the Guardian's Comment is Free really, doesn't it? Which is something the Guardian themselves might agree with, you would think. However, the Grauniad's Jemima Kiss wrote in today's edition that:

Persuading celebrities and public figures to blog for free has been a success, but that ego-powered cheap editorial can only last as long as HuffPo's credibility.

That might well be true, however, there's something about the UK's glorious newspaper industry that should be pointed out here. Large chunks of it are already written for free, by people interested in the exposure not the cash. I can tell you this for I have been one of the ghostwriting operatives for a political party myself. The high point of that career was getting 800 words as a 50ish female Spanish accountant into the Daily Sport. Rather over their word budget for the day's entire paper, which is why it was such a triumph.

Ed Milliband's opinion piece on NoTW scandal led the first UK edition. In a
shockingly unexpected turn of events, he seems to be of the opinion that his
opponent is, in fact, not doing a good job on the matter (click to enlarge).

No one would pay these clowns, anyway

Looking at the front page of HuffPo UK today, there's a number who wouldn't be paid not just by CiF or other online outlets, but wouldn't be paid by a print newspaper either, even if they did agree to publish it.

From the top: Ed Miliband, no, Leader of the Oppo. Wouldn't be paid by anyone. You've a platform for your politics and that's yer lot mate. Tim Knox from the CPS? Maybe paid, in print, but not online. Advertising for your think tank. Kate Allen, Amnesty? Nah, writing PR pieces is part of your job, we're not paying you as well. Chairman of the Police Federation? Al Campbell writing about his diaries (again?). Will Straw of the IPPR? Mo El Erian of Pimco the bond fund? No, that sort of business outreach doesn't get paid for, that's part of the job. Two more policy wonks, New Century Foundation and Taxpayers' Alliance, no we're giving you a platform, not money.

Roy Greenslade writes for a living and yes, he would be paid elsewhere in print. Zac Goldsmith, well, backbench MPs are a bit of a grey area. Ministers, it's illegal to pay them, frontbench spokesmen and senior politicians of all stripes, if they're writing party politics, they don't get paid. A simple MP, writing off party politics, probably does get some dosh. It's a grey area. Jeremy Hunt, well, he's already paid his ghost to write the piece and as above, it would be illegal to pay the minister for writing a piece anyway. The illegality is because as a minister you're not supposed to have outside interests that might influence you. Boris most certainly would not have his Telegraph column if he were in the Cabinet rather than just Mayor of London.

And so on through the list. Of the 19 there, I can only see two or three who might actually be paid by another media outlet for similar pieces. There's also the two or three who might get paid if another outlet agreed to publish them but it's unlikely that another outlet would agree to publish them (no, not being sarky, just realistic).

So, to an extent, this HuffPo people-will-write-for-free thing isn't in fact new. It's just open about it. All newspapers do it, most certainly all online outlets do it. It's not just the obvious shills that don't get paid either: CiF itself has been known to say that they'll take something only if they don't have to pay for it and that was when I wasn't pretending to be a Spanish accountant, Party Chairman or MEP on the make. ®

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