There were 9,000 so-called "citizen journalists" who wrote free articles to build Huffington Post into a commanding aggregator site. When founder Ariana Huffington sold it for $315 million in 2001, quite a few began feeling more like suckers than writers — and that's what they were called in a 2012 Doonesbury cartoon.
Receiving a byline seemed nice until Ariana cashed her check for millions with no intention to share. Then some writers thought they should have gotten a piece of that action. After all, where would Ariana be if it weren't for their efforts? So they filed a class action lawsuit to get "back pay," if you will.
The lawsuit was thrown out in a March 2012 ruling. U.S. District Judge John Koetl said "no one forced" the writers to work for no pay.
"They never expected to be paid, repeatedly agreed to the same bargain, and went into the arrangement with eyes wide open," the judge wrote.
The willingness of so many people to write, take photographs, and shoot video for free to enrich multimillion-dollar conglomerates is a phenomenon that several national corporations are tapping into. An estimated 750,000 people have submitted free stories, videos, and photos to CNN's iReport website, for example, and billionaire Philip Anschutz uses free journalism from citizens as the foundation for his nationwide chain of Examiner websites. Local TV stations across the country are using the free videos and photos submitted by their viewers.
Meanwhile, the ranks of paid, professional journalists continue to decline.