Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How Huffington Post represents what's wrong with Internet "news"

Arianna Huffington clearly wants to be taken seriously. She is a regular on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, writes and speaks articulately and convincingly as a liberal advocate, and clearly has worked tirelessly on developing a highly successful web site with millions of monthly visits.

And yet, Huffington Post is the best example of what's so wrong with "news" on the Internet. How? Oh, let me count the ways:

1. Despite a clear desire to engage the political agenda in behalf of the left, her site is populated by soft-porn, celebrity gossip, posts that turn out to be misleading or just plain wrong, the use of tabloid-style headlines and News-of-the-Weird style material that gives the site a sordid, illicit feel. Indeed, HuffPost has done more than just about any other site to popularize the now-famous warning, "NSFW," or, "Not Suitable for Work."

You doubt me? As I write this, the version of the site represented by the screen shot attached to my post includes the following material:
* "Beautiful lingerie model makes naked World Cup pledge."
* "Relationship secrets for highly empathic people."
* "Vienna calls Jake a fame whore."
* "George Clooney's girlfriend dons thong in Lake Como."
There is more, of course, including an entire section devoted to "Celebrity Skin," which, well, you can figure it out. HuffPost very helpfully shows its most popular posts on the right side of its home page. On this particular morning, these are: Kristen Stewart's Awkward Letterman Appearance; TAKEDOWN: Taibbi Unleashes on Lara Logan After Rolling Stone Interview; PHOTOS: Beautiful Lingerie Model Makes Naked World Cup Pledge; Brooke Smith: Hello, I'm a Mac and I'm a PC; Marcus Clown: 11 of the Craziest Things about the Universe.

2. There is nearly no original reporting on the site. The material is either ripped off from other places (often TMZ or People Magazine, but also from legitimate online political magazines or newspapers), or it's opinion stuff written by celebrities or people selling a book (because, after all, Arianna proudly notes that she pays nearly no one for their work).

3. The site's headlines are often misleading and sometimes, in their haste to get something out, they get it horribly wrong, such as the time a couple of weeks ago that the site breathlessly implied that the 16-year-old American girl attempting to sale around the world had died in a horrible accident. When it became clear they over-reached, no correction or apology was forthcoming.

There's really nothing wrong with any of this of course, except that Huffington wants us to take her seriously. She likes to tout the site's visitation numbers, which clearly must be boosted by the site's being one part political commentary, three parts celebrity gossip, and three parts "NSFW." There is glorious tradition behind all of this, of course -- many of Britain's tabloids have long featured "Page Three Girls": Photos of topless women featured prominently on, yes, Page Three. But, then, no one accuses those rags of attempting to set the UK's political agenda (or do they?).

I don't have any particular quarrel with Ms. Huffington, and it turns out my 26-year-old son has something of a crush on her. But this combination of information, entertainment and titillation is yet another symptom of our Age of Entertainment that threatens to trivialize the news at a time when it's the last thing we need. I suppose I'll be accused of being curmudgeonly, of not keeping up with these glorious new times.

Too bad. It is what it is. Real reporting is going on elsewhere, mostly -- dare I say it? -- at your local newspaper.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. The Huff is a sub-par, cheapo media for the gullible. On top of that their online versions always freeze my browser.