OK. I'm irritated now. Perhaps it was inevitable that the media response to the launch of Huffington Post UK today would be dominated by the fact that the majority of the content contributors don't get paid. Or rather, and here's the heart of my irritation, they're not getting paid money.
I would suggest that our professional expectations are skewing our view of what the Huffington Post is offering. There may not be any money changing hands, but there is still a transaction. The bloggers provide content, the HuffPo provides exposure. And for people who make their living in other ways bar writing, that exposure can be very valuable. As Neville Hobson puts it:
It also means that I’ll be writing for a mainstream medium. That traditionally means you need to be a journalist, which I’m not. I don’t know yet who any of the other bloggers are who’ll be writing for the UK edition, but my guess is that a majority will not be journalists.
This isn't a new model. Many business to business titles publish expert comment or advice from industry professionals, who contribute copy for exposure. In effect, they are advertising their expertise. It's a transaction that works well for publishers, writers and readers, and has for, literally, decades. The only difference is that the HuffPo is doing this in a bigger and more mainstream way.
I think people are misreading the situation. The market value of content is impossible to define, because it's too wide a category. The market value for journalism is a more interesting issue, because a lot depends on what you mean by journalism. If you mean reporting - finding out unpublished things, proving them and publishing, well, I think the market value is largely unaffected by what the HuffPo is doing. If you mean spouting your opinions at the world - well, I think this launch makes the market value for that very clear indeed.