Thursday, December 3, 2009

HuffPo and the 'new journalism'

It turns out that there’s an online business model I overlooked in my last 10 years of searching and pondering. It goes something like this:
1. Attend a prestigious English university, assisted by an upbringing of comfort and privilege.

2. Move to the U.S. and throw yourself into right-wing politics in a very public way.

3. Marry a wealthy political activist who spends many millions of his own money to get elected to Congress.

4. When he discloses he’s bisexual, divorce him but keep his last name (and a good share of his money), because Stassinopoulos is so hard to pronounce.

5. Round up $30 million or so from friendly investors in startup capital to begin a web site. By this time, however, you’ll have become something of a liberal diva.

6. Use only free bloggers, other sites’ original content and lots of pictures of naked celebrities to populate the site. Popularize the acronym NSFW, or Not Suitable for Work, to save your viewers the embarrassment of being caught at their cubicle with Pamela Sue Anderson’s naked backside on their screen while the boss is looking over their shoulder. (Go so far as to create a link called “Celebrity Skin”.)

7. When asked if your site is profitable, dodge the question by saying things like, “We could be if we wanted to be.”

8. Make fun of people who dare suggest that web sites shouldn’t be able to post original content from other sources with impunity. Go on TV and radio whenever possible to do this, and make sure all of these appearances get top-of-page play on your own site.

9. Oh, and take your headline-writing style from the Enquirer and other tabloids, using lots of ALL CAPS and BOLD, RED fonts.
This, if course, is the business model for Huffington Post, one of the more successful Internet startups in recent history, so long as sustainable profits aren’t required to be considered successful. HuffPo has expanded into “local” portals for New York, Chicago, Denver, and, most recently, Los Angeles, largely by pilfering content from local newspapers (and the odd TV station) in those markets. No wonder Ms. Huffington thinks copyright laws are so 20th Century.

Judging by the web site’s own tracking of its visitors, its most popular material inevitably is the latest on the emerging Tiger Woods scandal, the latest photos of naked Hollywood starlets or the latest news on someone coming out as gay or bisexual. The serious political stuff gets relegated to the left side of the page and seems to be of less interest.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of this, so long as you don’t expect to be taken seriously as some kind of journalistic enterprise. Alas, Ms. Huffington appears to desire just that, appearing on all the right talk shows to give advice to everyone from the president to owners of major media companies.

OK, OK, I read it, for the same basic reason that I read The Onion – it’s fun and a little naughty. (At least The Onion comes up with its own material.) It does, however, attempt to create the façade of a certain respectability that’s only skin deep (bad pun, completely intended). However, anyone who thinks HuffPo is breaking new ground or is the new model for journalism needs to go just beyond the surface.

1 comment:

  1. The problem with the Huffington Post is that it doesn't pay for content. I could put up a chalk board in Idaho Falls in front of the Barnes & Noble bookstore and get the same results. Well maybe not the celebrity nudity, but you get the idea.