HuffPost Ends Unpaid Contributor Program Citing Fake News Issues

In an interview with The New York Times, HuffPost Editor in Chief Lydia Polgreen said unpaid contributor platforms have become “cacophonous”

Lydia Polgreen

HuffPost will be eliminating its large stable of unpaid contributors, Editor in Chief Lydia Polgreen revealed this week.

The site’s practice of farming unpaid content, often from young and unknown journalists, has been a consistent hallmark since the site’s founding in 2005 by Arianna Huffington.

In an interview with The New York Times. Polgreen said that what once seemed like a novel way of democratizing journalism has become a “cacophonous”, unproductive space that was hurting the industry in the era of fake news.

“Certainly the environment where fake news is flourishing is one where it gets harder and harder to support the idea of a ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ kind of publishing platform,” she said, adding that, unpaid content, lacking the same editorial controls had created “messy, hard-to-hear places where voices get drowned out and where the loudest shouting voice prevails.”

Polgreen did not immediately respond to request for comment from TheWrap.

In the past, questions about quality often took a backseat to the traffic that the unpaid platform generated for the website, which according to the Times was about 15 percent overall. As The Times pointed out, some unpaid content started national conversations — like this one in 2008 quoting then-presidential candidate Barack Obama saying that blue-collar workers often “cling to guns or religion.”

In 2016, an unpaid contributor posted a piece blasting the American student Otto Warmbier for his “white privilege” after he was captured and imprisoned in North Korea.

“As shocked as I am by the sentence handed down to Warmbier, I am even more shocked that a grown man, an American citizen, would not only voluntarily enter North Korea but also commit what’s been described a ‘college-style prank,’ ” wrote author La Sha.

“That kind of reckless gall is an unfortunate side effect of being socialized first as a white boy, and then as a white man in this country.”

The website at the time defended the piece — sort of.

“HuffPost’s contributor platform operates an opinion site that hosts hundreds of items per day, and inevitably some are going to be more controversial than others,” a HuffPost spokesperson told the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple last year — shortly after Warmbier died from brain injuries sustained while in captivity.

“We’re not in the business of deleting posts because we disagree with the opinions in them.”