Friday, February 11, 2011

This Is Not the Future of Journalism

Arianna Huffington decked out like a pirate with eyepatch and hatThe best thing I've seen written about the AOL buyout of Huffington Post is an op-ed by Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times called New Media Have Less and Less to Offer.

He points out how little AOL has been paying its "content providers": at best, what would have been rookie journalist wages paid to experienced journalists adrift from the newspaper diaspora, at worst $50 per story. HuffPo's track record on payment is even worse -- it's almost all unpaid original work or aggregated from other sources.

And possibly even worse is AOL's (and HuffPo's) approach to monetizing content by valuing link bait over substantial work. Quoting a memo from AOL CEO Tim Armsrong:

the company's editors [should] evaluate all future stories on the basis of "traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turnaround time."

All stories, [Armstrong] stressed, are to be evaluated according to their "profitability consideration." All AOL's journalistic employees will be required to produce "five to 10 stories per day."

Note all the things that come before the quality of the work or its contribution to the public interest and you've arrived at an essential difference between journalism and content.
Five to 10 stories a day! Guess that's not going to be investigative journalism that speaks truth to power. It won't even be fact-checked: just regurgitated press releases.

And Rutten's summary of the HuffPo is withering:
The bulk of the site's content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they're devoted.

Most of the rest of the content is "aggregated" -- which is to say stolen -- from the newspapers and television networks that pay journalists to gather and edit the news....

To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates.
I have mixed feelings about aggregation. Like almost everyone, I appreciate a little help in finding the things I'm interested in. I admit to scanning HuffPo daily to get a sense of what's going on. Why that site instead of the New York Times or something else? I'm really not sure. It's not because I want to see the crap they run attacking vaccines or to find out which celebrity's daughter someone snapped a photo of. But the HuffPo home page is very scannable, which -- given my behavior-- must be what I am looking for. (I almost never read any of the commentators' posts.)

Exiting self-analysis mode, I return to the belief that while there's a need for a new model -- examples like MinnPost and the Twin Cities Daily Planet come to mind -- the HuffPo-AOL merger isn't it. Especially when I remember my minimum criteria for replacing newspapers.


An earlier post: Reporters Trapped Inside a Burning Business Model

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

My reading style is similar -- ignore the opinion pieces, try to ignore the right-hand column (celebrities and Chicago crime, mostly), and look at what's in the middle. Reading the Huffington Post is a bit like shopping at Wal-Mart -- I should know better, but I don't.