The feud between old and new media just got personal with Ariana Huffington lashing back at Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, for a piece that will appear in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine. In the piece Keller dismisses the reporting of the Huffington Post as one that involves slide shows of "cute kittens" and claims that Huffington plagiarized his comments from a panel on the future of journalism.
How great is Huffington's instinctive genius for aggregation? I once sat beside her on a panel in Los Angeles (on -- what else? -- The Future of Journalism). I had come prepared with a couple of memorized riffs on media topics, which I duly presented. Afterward we sat down for a joint interview with a local reporter. A moment later I heard one of my riffs issuing verbatim from the mouth of Ms. Huffington. I felt so... aggregated.
Huffington came back swinging, showing several instances where she used the comment she made to the press well before the panel she shared with Keller. She also argues that the Huffington Post is a site of strong journalism and writing, employing nearly 150 reporters and editors and recently stole away the top business writer from the NYT.
As a junkie of the news of news, I was enthralled seeing the frustration of newspapers like The New York Times so viscerally vented. Keller is wrong to dismiss the Huffington Post as a mere "news aggregator," though of course it does do that and does it well. But Huffington herself has a lot of answer to in terms of true journalistic standards and contributions.
As a reporter and producer for NBC on the 2008 campaign trail, I remember well an incident in which one of her off-the-bus reporters paid to attend a fundraiser with Obama that was off the record and then emerged with a recording of his comments. That type of thing doesn't fly at a real news organization where sources are respected and standards and ethics are adhered to. It flies in the face of the trust that political reporters spend years trying to build, and it closes off the gates to true access and insight into political candidates. It's great that the Huffington Post, with the merger with AOL is growing into a strong content-generating organization, and I would hope with that growth comes the desire to play by a fair set of standards.
That being said, everything that Keller contends shows the lack of insight and innovation that major newspaper companies have displayed in regards to the emergence of blogs and new media. The Huffington Post is a unique and rare thing, where your neighbors can get published alongside leading writers and thinkers of the day. That alone is enough payment for most people. Journalism and writing aren't the type of professions where you enter to make a quick buck. The New York Times should be following the community model espoused by the Huffington Post, making it easier for those who are loyal Times readers to be given a say and have a chance to chime in, not just through comments but actual reader sections that involved columns and opinions by people who wish to speak their mind. It builds loyalty, a following, and creates a stickiness with your consumer that's missing in the content-generating business these days. The criticism that Keller simply shows him as a part of an old-guard media elite that is dissatisfied and unable to change with technology.