The Huffington Post and the Race to the Bottom - The Intrepid

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Huffington Post and the Race to the Bottom

Arianna Huffington

By all accounts, Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post has been a fantastic success. The site, which is an entertaining mix between a news aggregator and a weblog, was started in 2005 and is now the fifteenth most popular site on the internet—just above the BBC and below the Washington Post. While the site’s rapid accession is astounding, it’s also somewhat worrisome. The site only employs fifty-five staffers; all the other contributors are unpaid. If HuffPo, as it’s commonly referred to (yeah, its short-form sounds like the name of a Care Bear), represents the future of journalism, then professional journalism doesn’t stand a chance.

At first glance, Arianna’s experiment seems noble. By giving prominent journalists, writers, authors, politicians, entertainers, and amateurs complete creative control, the site encourages unique articles. The problem is that HuffPo only offers their contributors a means to an end. Free publicity is great if you’re already known. But if you’re a relatively unknown blogger or journalist who wants to break into the industry, HuffPo really isn’t that useful.

The site gives amateur writers a voice in a respectable organization, but at the same time it also undermines the very industry that these writers want to be a part of. If HuffPo is able flourish and profit with thousands of free writers, unpaid interns, and a skeleton staff, what’s to stop every major newspaper from adopting the same format? (Besides the obvious fact that if every media organization just aggregated content, there wouldn’t be anything left to aggregate.)

With all the cutbacks, layoffs, and closures, the news industry seems to be moving closer to the HuffPo’s lean, mean style. To survive, several papers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, have abandoned their print editions, slashed costs, and moved entirely online. As these organizations adopt the HuffPo model, there are going to be fewer jobs out there for paid writers. Unfortunately, this makes the experience and publicity that the site offers somewhat useless.

This isn’t a shot across the bow of every weblog out there or an argument for pay-to-read online news subscriptions. There’s a big future for HuffPo’s style of citizen journalism, but our fear is that Arianna’s web model might just extinguish paid professional journalism altogether. For now, professional writers are content to write for free to promote their paid projects, but when the time comes that they have nothing to promote, they’ll probably stop writing for free.

Photo of Arianna Huffington by jdlasica


Anonymous said...

OMFG THE SKY IS FALLING! This article sounds like it was written by someone who works/did work for a newspaper. Citizen journalism has it's place alongside 'professional' journalism. Fox news, cnbc, these are failures of 'professional' journalism... HuffPo is a success of 'amateur' journalism. Both have their places, and can exist next to each other. I'm so tired of these 'I'm going to talk shit about someone more successful than me in order to get you to read my blog' whiny rants.