Posted April 27, 2011 8:27 am by with 4 comments

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Boy oh boy! The good folks of Aol can’t pass up any chance whatsoever for people to wonder what in the world they are up to. As the company has fully entered its “Arianna Online” era (or as history may put it one day, error) it is obvious that Huffington thinks that there are enough free writers out there that they can recruit 8,000 bloggers for their Patch service by May 4. Not a typo, May 4.

Forbes tells us

Arianna Huffington must not be taking that class action lawsuit against her too seriously. Not only is AOL’s new content chief not cutting down on the use of unpaid bloggers, she’s doubling down — literally. Patch, AOL’s network of hyperlocal news sites, is trying to recruit as many as 8,000 bloggers in the next eight days, according to editor in chief Brian Farnham.

So it looks like recent journalism school grads from across the United States can rejoice that they will be able to “get a job” and build their resume by saying they wrote for Aol! Pretty cool except that job carries no pay. The devil’s in the details, right?

This just goes to show how ‘committed to quality’ Aol is. It looks like the reality is that they are just turning into another content farm who are giving their farmhands absolutely nothing (except a lame resume reference that anyone who knows the industry will see is a cattle call to get someone who can fog a mirror to write something / anything).

Forbes continues

On Friday, Patch editors were told to start recruiting bloggers in preparation for the launch of its blog platform on May 4. Yesterday, Farnham issued a memo with concrete targets: Each editor is expected to sign up five to 10 new bloggers by then.

“As for the question of why we are moving this fast after the go-slow approach presented on Friday, let me address that here: we’re a startup,” Farnham wrote [emphasis his]. “You’ve heard that before and it’s going to remain true for some time. You all signed on knowing this was a young company, and while no one likes a fire drill, at the same time you have to get used to changes and moving fast if you want to be a Patch editor.”

No one likes a fire drill?! That’s rich, especially after he said that the opposite was told to these people just at the end of last week! These guys are funny, aren’t they? Oh and if you knew the platform was being launched on May 4 who do you wait until the end of April to start recruiting bloggers in numbers that might be bigger than some towns Patch serves? To Farnham’s credsit, at least he admitted that it’s a fire drill. Let’s hope no one gets hurt.

Oh and remember the report that made such a splash which touting the hiring of 800 Patch employees? Well, let’s not get crazy and think that it was a priority. Sounds like it was more about some positive press than anything else.

The report quoted Huffington as saying, “Each site will now have its own team.” That was welcome news to existing Patch editors, who typically operate solo, and who have seen their freelance budgets cut this year.

But the jubilation was short-lived, as Patch editors were subsequently informed that Huffington’s comment should not be taken to mean that each site would be adding a second editor, merely that an as-yet-unknown number of editors will be hired at some point.

So let’s cut to the chase here. It simply seems that Arianna’s empire needs some indentured servants but without the benefits. (So you are aware, indentured servants, according to Wikipedia, were typically a young, unskilled laborer contracted to work for an employer for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of their indenture. They included men and women; most were under age 21, and most became helpers on farms or house servants. They were not paid wages). At least they got something for their efforts!

This whole Aol, Arianna, Patch as a start-up drama has already run its course. It’s obvious they are flailing at anything to make this work. Aol’s high profile properties like Engadget have already seen their best and brightest ‘get out of Dodge City’ after the takeover by the empress. One wonders if the clock is clicking over at TechCrunch as well as they become more fully assimilated into the ‘Aol way’. You don’t really think that Aol will keep their hands off any of their properties completely, do you?

So what is your take on Aol, its properties and its prospects? Do you care? Will Aol ever be truly relevant again as a brand or should anyone under the Aol umbrella work hard to separate themselves from what seems to be an ongoing business course case study of a company that can’t seem to get out of its own way?

  • Great commentary- just finished a similar post –

  • Recruit 5-10 FREE bloggers? Good luck with that! I guarantee that even if these poor Patch editors can get that many people to SAY they will blog, it will be like pulling teeth to get them to do so after the first few posts, once they realize how much time and effort it takes. I am one of the main writers for a state political blog. We have gotten national attention and are read by all the movers and shakers in our state. Elected officials take us seriously. Yet we are having to work really hard to find new bloggers in various parts of the state who will be reliable since we also can’t pay anything yet. But I’ll bet anyone who blogs for US will have a higher profile and make more contacts than anyone who blogs for their local Patch site.

    • Cynthia Boris

      You’re exactly right. I’ve worked on several blogs where I managed a staff of freelancers and even paid bloogers have a tendency to drop off after the novelty wears off. This is crazy.

  • It’s absolutely disgusting that such a big company is expecting people to work for free. Who would want to write for them, highschool students? I suspect university students can find something better.