By Simon Dumenco
You need to read this Forbes.com post if you haven’t already: “Huffpo and Patch Recruiting Bloggers as Young as 13.” It perhaps fell under the radar a bit because of when it was published—Friday afternoon during the lunch hour for many North American readers—so I’m calling attention to it here. In it, Forbes reporter/blogger Jeff Bercovici notes that AOL’s Huffington Post Media Group is prepping the launch of a vertical called HuffPost High School, which will be edited by a (paid) 17-year-old staffer, but which will apparently solicit unpaid blog contributions from teenagers.
“For AOL’s use of underage bloggers to constitute child labor, it would first have to be established that unpaid blogging is labor, period.”
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. On Patch and HuffPost High School, it will sell ads against content created by minors—and it will not share that advertising revenue with those minors.
Self-respecting advertisers have to ask if they really want to be a part of something like this.