COMMENTARY | Funny or Die released a satirical video “You’ve Got News!” poking fun at the AOL-Huffington Post merger. Known for its politically incorrect videos — and often not suitable for work humor — Funny or Die brings us back to the mid-1990s via a cartoon trip.
The setting for the parody is two intellectually challenged males, one in front of his PC, both discovering and discussing the merits of AOL. This AOL, however, is repacked with Huffington Post branding.
TechCrunch, owned by AOL, was first to report on the You’ve Got News! meme.
Though some comic relief may escape people who didn’t have the pleasure of turning AOL CD-ROMs into a DIY projects, a Funny or Die video is inherently viral-friendly while a thoughtful three-page curated-editorial from, say, the Columbia School of Journalism, is not.
As to the former, given that the “You’ve Got Mail” era is unfamiliar to people who migrated to the Internet during the last decade, some perspective may be helpful:
AOL was a once a mainstream “Internet provider” but offered a “dumbed down,” heavily monitored version of the Web.
The content was filtered though the corporate AOL lens and both chats and forums were disconnected from the rest of the digital world either, initially.
Technological limits aside, it was AOL corporate that dictated what information and features were relevant as the new industry focused on a way to navigate the network — akin to the way Microsoft Windows made PCs user-friendly, relatively speaking.
Otherwise, the “real Internet” was largely populated with academics and people motivated enough to access the information superhighway — an appropriate moniker then — for other than segregated chats and filtered news; the purposes were not always noble, to include warez (illegal file sharing), a term banned from user-created AOL chat channel names, incidentally.
So, noble or not, these same Internet pioneers connected to their digital world on their own (and their 28.8K baud modems) terms — deciding for themselves which content was king.
Albeit — to be fair — some of AOL’s users were highly educated but lacked the interest, time and/or capacity to use the more cumbersome Internet directly. Others enjoyed the virtual safety net it provided from the calloused new world — such as inadvertently landing on “whitehouse.com,” a pornography site capitalizing on the .com rather than .gov extension.
There is subtle irony in this example: First, the formerly independent Huffington Post could be likened to Internet pioneers — interested in a democratic content platform — but are now subject to AOL interests. Secondly, the Huffington Post entertainment section — with titles emphasizing female anatomy and clothing malfunctions — dominate the content portal — both devaluing its credibility as a news provider while simultaneously subjecting it to big media and advertising interests.
AOL was essentially a pretty package of diluted content then and the Funny or Die parody highlights similar perception as seen now from the lucrative AOL-Huffington Post merger.
Turning our attention instead to the aforementioned article, “AOL Settled with Unpaid Volunteers,” the argument, in a nutshell, is this:
“Even though the writers don’t feel that they are being used, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t. The Huffington Post reaps actual direct financial rewards from all this free labor, whereas the bloggers’ rewards are indirect, and primarily emotional. That has always been true, but the contrast is thrown into much sharper relief when we suddenly learn the extent of those financial rewards, to the tune of $315 million.”
The editorial goes on to cite a legal precedent, the Alamo Foundation; whereas the courts ruled that while the workers themselves did not fell used, the “work was unfair for other businesses competing with the foundation.”
Despite the competent and credible article, however, the Funny or Die video — as Huffington Post bloggers know all too well — is much more likely to be seen. Three-page articles rarely go viral in a country where Jon Stewart makes the “most trusted news anchor” list.
But this was the case well before the AOL-Huffington Post merger — an issue that the journalism industry continues to struggle with: viewer demand reigns king in the publishing world — offering the opportunity for viewers to be informed by either via Funny or Die or a journalist.