Thursday, February 10, 2011

A POET WRITES IN: "I Don't Like AOL Owning the Blogosphere!"

Note to Readers: My poet friend, Suzanne Wise, has written in with these thoughts about the plight of writers and artists who are not compensated for their work. Meanwhile, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has weighed in with a rather frank and eye-opening column suggesting that Arianna Huffington is indeed Queen of Shifty "ideological transformation." Is AOL's takeover of the HuffPost a "sell out"? Milbank, who has known Arianna through several dramatic morphs, says, in effect, of course it is.

P.S. there is a rather quirky video to go with Milbank's column, in which AOL CEO Tim Armstrong and HuffPost CEO Arianna Huffington discuss their future together in journalism. I will reserve judgement of this video, but I strongly suggest you watch it, to SEE WHAT YOU THINK!!


The AOL takeover brings to mind that oft-repeated scenario in New York City in which artists are the pioneers of low-income, less-than-safe neighborhoods. As artists collect in said kind of neighborhood, cafes, galleries, bookstores etc. crop up. Pretty soon, the neighborhood becomes desirable, real estate movers and shakers come in and buy and gentrify and before you know it the artists are getting evicted and/or priced out of the neighborhood.

In this case, however, writers are not getting kicked off The Huffington Post but, after upping the value of the site, they retain their place as non-paid laborers, sharing in none of the profits. As media outlets becomes owned by fewer and fewer companies and as journalists are being fired right and left and newspaper pages dwindle and book review sections are cut, this seems like part of business as usual.

And business as usual is rather depressing.

I don't like the idea of AOL owning the blogosphere. AOL owns enough already. But somehow I am not wild with anger either. Maybe because I have not been pouring my heart and soul into a blog. Maybe because I don't expect the writing I care about to get supported by mainstream corporate culture--which AOL is the epitome of.

I am not a blogger and I don't read many blogs, so I may be out of touch. But I had thought blogging was about being on the outside of the machine, not being tied -- financially or otherwise -- to any official media venture. Thus you could be objective and not beholden to those who paid your salary.

The fact that I am a poet -- a pursuit that is completely outside the marketplace -- surely shapes this view.

Maybe bloggers for The Huffington Post could respond by critiquing the platform from which they speak, talking back to AOL, uncovering their dirt. An acquaintance from graduate school taught a popular course on the economics of education, revealing to students the ways in which their education was largely coming to them by way of low-paid teaching assistants and revealing where tution money actually went.

I worry that blogs will go the way of so-called Indie music or indie films, that nowadays actually have the backing of major money and power. But everyone likes to pretend they're having an "alternative" experience because it's more work to find the art and culture that has not already been packaged and marketed to us. I think people should work hard to resist being sucked into the machine in whatever way seems most effective to them. And bloggers can help readers find life beyond the machine.

But that's the poet talking.

POET SUZANNE WISE, a Vermont native, received her BA from Middlebury College in Vermont and her MFA from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Her poems have appeared in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Tikkun, Volt, and elsewhere, and have been recognized with two fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award, among other honors. Her first book is The Kingdom of the Subjunctive (Alice James, 2000). Wise has served as the literary events planner for Small Press Distribution in Berkeley and Poets House in New York City, and has taught creative writing at Middlebury College and in the Publication, Performance, and Media Program at Pratt Institute. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, musician and writer Jacob Slichter.

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