Posts about huffingtonpost

Who’s afraid of Arianna Huffington?

The New York Times has been gunning for The Huffington Post lately, which makes me wonder what exactly Arianna Huffington has done to scare or anger them so. Or perhaps that’s the wrong question. Given that our enemies are often those we don’t understand, I wonder what The Times fails to grasp about HuffPo. That then leads to the question of what The Times can learn from this Post.

Felix Salmon has done a skillful job covering this one-way war, this schoolyard taunting in two posts. Times Executive Editor Bill Keller wrote two columns and a blog post going after Huffington—once directly; once without (as Salmon puts it) the intellectual honesty to link to and allow his readers to judge those he criticizes; and once defensively, after Huffington called his bluff. Times staff loyally picked up Keller’s spitballs to lob their own. Media critic David Carr wrote and then killed a tweet sniping about Arianna that he later conceded was “tasteless.” Andrew Goldman didn’t so much interview Huffington for The Times Magazine as he acted like a parody of a TV prosecutor trying to bait a cagey witness—or perhaps it is better described as a comic homage to Joe McCarthy trying to elicit confessions of leftness. Then Salmon points out that The Times snagged a HuffPo scoop without credit. Just now Carr delivers a glancing blow to Aol/HuffPo, reading into a defection a defeat.

What is The Times’ problem? I think it’s that they do not understand what makes Huffington Post successful and they lash out at the unknown. Here, I suggest, is what The Times and Keller don’t understand about HuffPo. Here is what they think is wrong with it:

* Huffington Post is not content. Content is what content people make; if they don’t make it, it’s not content. That, I believe, is The Times’ cultural view of HuffPo: It cannot be content because the likes of The Times have not made it (no matter how many Timesman Huffington hires). That, I theorized, is why The Times and other media temples did not start their own HuffPo’s or buy the original: It’s not real. Even if The Times were to give it credit for the one-third of HuffPo that is content—by dozens of journalists—they’d still say it’s diluted by the other third that is aggregation and the last third that is comment. And that leads to…

* Conversation is not content. When I had Henry Blodget speak with my class on new business models and disruption, he praised HuffPo for its understanding of the value of conversation. In The Times’ view, conversation is what they enable—no, tolerate—when readers chatter under articles once they are finished. As I learn in every damned meeting with news folks I ever have, comments have cooties. All they can ever hear from the vox populi is the voices of the trolls. Blodget and Huffington have a broader sense of the conversation. That was Arianna’s essential insight when she gave celebrities a place to speak; that is conversation. That was Henry’s insight when he learned to listen to what people were talking about so he could join in and add to their conversation. Which leads to…

* Aggregation is cheating. The Times thinks aggregation is not content. Worse, they are coming around to Rupert Murdoch’s view that it is theft. As Jay Rosen tweeted, seen from the readers’ point of view, aggregation is helpful; it adds value to coverage. Indeed, that’s why The Times does aggregate and curate. But when looking for enemies, it’s best not to look in the mirror. I talk (a lot) about the link economy and how there are two distinct creations of value online: the creation of content and the creation of a public (née audience) for it. Aggregators, curators, and commentators bring audience—and value—to content. If the recipient of those links can’t build a relationship of value with the people who are clicking, that’s their problem. At CUNY, I will soon finally have the time to start a research project on the value of links and how to optimize it. I’d like to see this debate about aggregation between The Times and HuffPo occur on economic rather than emotional terms and hope to inform that discussion with facts.

* Free is offensive. Here’s another area in which The Times is coming to side with—gasp!—Murdoch. Now that it has a meter—and without a proven economic basis for it (not yet)—Times people must put the case again, in emotional terms of entitlement: Readers *want* to pay. Readers *should* pay. Times content *deserves* payment. People who question the strategy are demonized. (David Carr attacked me on NPR over just this … we’ve since hugged and made up; this is what I really have to say about the Times’ meter.) Huffington created value—we know the exact amount, to nine figures—out of getting people to write for free (because they wanted to and found value in). She’s cheapening the valuable work we journalists perform, isn’t she? No, like her free writers, she’s valuing something else. She’s valuing the relationships she has with the people formerly known as an audience.

* Left is not right. Goldman’s desperate effort to get Huffington to admit—CONFESS, I SAY AGAIN, CONFESS!—that she’s—gasp!—liberal, taken with Keller’s paeans to himself and his kind of journalism, were as revealing as they were disingenuous. I find Arianna, too, disingenuous in her efforts to sidestep the word the way Roger Ailes won’t own right. All of them want to dump us, the people, in these two buckets, left and right, but they are above classification. The Times’ real problem is not that Huffington a liberal but that she is an advocate of a point of view. So she tweaks The Times for WMDs and upholding antiquated definitions of objectivity and balance.

* Fun is not allowed. Journalism is serious business. It’s no place for kittens.

In my class, I’ve had my students pick a target to disrupt with a new business (after doing that, they’ll turn around and act as the disrupted company to craft a defense—it’s a lesson in finding opportunity in change). The class picked their target: Huffington Post (when I thought they would have picked The Times). Last week, they presented research and what struck me was the difference in engagement at both sites. HuffPo users generate 18 page views per month on average. The Times is defining only a small slice of its uniques—10%? 20%?—as that engaged, at 20 pageviews per month. I say The Times would have better used the $30-40 million reportedly spent on its meter finding ways to better engage its public—multiplying pageviews (fourfold or more?) and consequent ad revenue—while finding new ways to exploit these deeper relationships (data, commerce, events….). The Times knows it needs to increase engagement; that’s the industry’s favorite conference buzzword. The irony of The Times’ meter is that when it succeeds at engaging a once-casual reader, their reward is a wall. That is an economic and strategic question.

How could The Times increase engagement? By learning from Huffington Post rather than snarking at it. Aggregation has value for readers. Conversation is engaging. Fighting for the people—which is what newspapers did, in their good old days—is the most meaningful way to engage with a community. Fun is fine.

I am reminded of the schoolyard, when the boy nasty to a girl and some sage adult would see that he really just had a crush on her and didn’t know how to say it. OK, Bill and Arianna, kiss and make up.

: See also Jonathan Stray, who calls for a paid content API. I’d broaden that (as above) into a means to exchange value for both content and audience however that value is then exploited.

It’s not all about content and work

In his column complaining about Huffington Post and the new economics of content competition, I think David Carr makes two understandable but fundamentally fallacious assumptions about news and media: that the value in journalism is in content and that making content must be work. Because that’s the way it used to be.

In their op-ed the next day in The New York Times complaining about copyright losing its hardness, Scott Turow, Paul Aiken, and James Shapiro extend the error to entertainment, assuming that content is entertainment and content is what content makers make.

Not necessarily.

Pull back to view the true value of these things: information, knowledge, enlightenment, amusement, experience, engagement. Content can be and has been a vessel to deliver their worth. But it is not the only one. That is the lesson of the internet — indeed, of Huffington Post itself. I have argued that The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the BBC, and other media should have but never would have started the Huffington Post because they, like the gentlemen above, still see content as value in itself and further believe that content is their own franchise (granted by their control of the means of production and distribution). So the benefits of content cannot come from others — bloggers, commenters, citizens, amateurs — as new wine in new casks. They instead want to put their old wine in the new skins (witness The Daily).

That is why old media people are missing new opportunities. It’s not about the content (stupid). It’s about the value.

We can be informed now by many means: by our neighbors telling us what they know, enabled to do so by the net, at a marginal cost of zero, doing so not because it is work (and work must be paid) but because this is what neighbors do for each other. We can be entertained by many means: by clever people making songs and shows and telling stories because they love doing so and because they are compensated in attention rather than royalties (and that attention may well lead to money when they can finally detour around the gauntlet of old media’s closed ways to find audiences on their own).

Why do people write on Huffington Post? Because they can. Because they give a shit. Because they like the attention and conversation. Because they couldn’t before. Why do they sing their songs on YouTube? Same reasons.

Is there still a role for the journalist, the professional, the artist in this? Perhaps. I think so. That’s why I am teaching journalism school. But I’m not necessarily teaching them to make content. That is now only one of many, many ways to meet the goals of adding value to information, time, and society. Some of my entrepreneurial journalism students are, for example, creating businesses that will use data to impart information; they will add value by gathering and analyzing it and making it possible for you to find the intersecting points that matter to you. Other of my students are creating platforms for you to get more value out of your own data. Others are creating platforms for people to connect around interests and make and find their own value. Others are finding new ways to sustain reporting and the making of content. They are all valid if they bring value.

If you concentrate on the value, not the form — content — then the possibilities explode.

Turow et al shut down the idea that opening up information can yield greater value that protecting it. Sharers are…

… abetted by a handful of law professors and other experts who have made careers of fashioning counterintuitive arguments holding that copyright impedes creativity and progress. Their theory is that if we severely weaken copyright protections, innovation will truly flourish. It’s a seductive thought, but it ignores centuries of scientific and technological progress based on the principle that a creative person should have some assurance of being rewarded for his innovative work.

No, I’d say rather that there are more ways to open up value. If Wikipedia were copyrighted by a publisher, it never would have become Wikipedia because it would be owned, not shared. We now have a new means to collect value rather than merely to own content.

I remember at the DLD conference a few years ago when Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales defended himself from a ninja-knife-wielding Jason Calacanis over paying people to contribute to online resources. Calacanis, like Carr, called it work. Wales instead likened it to a pickup game of basketball. Viewed from a distance, basketball certainly looks like work; they sweat enough. So why don’t we demand that they be paid? Why aren’t we lamenting the loss of a marketplace for their value? Because that’s not where the value is. It’s in the fun.

Granted, what’s done with that fun — how it is exploited — is relevant. If I start charging admission to watch you play basketball — it is great content, after all — or if I put sponsors’ banners on the court — you did draw an audience — you might want a cut. If you can get it — if you can show that there aren’t a million competitors for court time in an open marketplace — great! But what if the gate or the ads merely support my ability to provide free court time to you or free uniforms to your town-team kids? The economics are not necessarily sweat = work = product = pay. Neither is it any longer true that owning the expensive means of production and distribution assures a return on that investment. There are other expressions of value.

The truth is that Huffington Post recognizes the value of professionalism. I’ve lately recalled Arianna Huffington talking with Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger in London a few years ago when he — with native irony, in front of his reporters — asked why the hell she was hiring reporters, who are a pain in the ass to manage and expensive to boot. Because their stories get more traffic, she said. They add value. That’s why she has editors and curators. They add value. That’s why she has technologists who make the Huffington Post such a social experience. They enable value.

That’s what I’m teaching my entrepreneurial students: add value. And be efficient: take advantage of the free exchange that is already happening — the free and open platforms and the information that now easily passes on them. Then put your precious resources where you most add value. Do that before you even think of extracting value. There are the new economics of what we used to think of as content.


They laughed when Arianna sat down to the keyboard. They were wrong. I was wrong, too. I hadn’t imagined that Huffington Post would become the force in media and politics that it became.

Tim Armstrong and Aol are smart to acquire Huffington Post as a media property and Arianna Huffington as the head of content.

I was just thinking yesterday that though Aol has lots of content and plans to make a lot more, I never think to go there, apart from heading to one of its brands, such as Engadget. Portals are burned toast. Making content for search is not, I believe, a growth strategy, as the more Google becomes personalized and successfully seeks out signals of quality and originality, the more SEO will die as a black art. So to execute on its content-and-advertising strategy, Aol needs brands with engagement. Huffington Post is that. Armstrong needs someone who understands that the critical sphere of discovery for content will more and more be people: peers links, not algorithms; Arianna gets that. The company was bought at a high multiple to its revenue but I think the price is not insane. Armstrong didn’t buy pageviews (how 2005); he bought a content and distribution strategy.

The only thing that makes me nervous is hearing Arianna talk with Kara Swisher about the center. No, Arianna, don’t heed the siren call of the view from nowhere! But I can’t believe that’s possible for her. Arianna’s not going to be buying Glenn Beck. Arianna must be Arianna.

One wonders why big, old media companies didn’t buy Huffington Post. The better question is why they never started their own HuffPos. Only one did: The Guardian. When it saw HuffPo, I remember, its response was, ‘shit, we should have done that.’ So they did, starting Comment is Free as a vehicle to change its relationship with the public (more than as a business strategy). The New York Times or Washington Post are still too tied to their views of themselves as the founts of all fonts; as far as they may have come, the HuffPo model remains a populist leap too far. TV is wrapped up in its makeup. I tried to convince many publishers in Germany that they should start HuffPo and not one bit.

So who could have bought and invested in the growth of Aol? Yahoo? Thank God Arianna avoided that black hole of online death. Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al all see themselves as platforms for others’ content, not content themselves. No, Aol and Armstrong were stubbornly going their own way with a content strategy and that’s what made HuffPo an ideal acquisition. Who else could Aol have bought? Gawker Media? No, as friend and professional contrarian Nick Denton keeps insisting, he’s not a blog; he’s not a blogger but a content maker.

Content alone isn’t enough for Aol. It has content. Lots. What HuffPo and Arianna bring is a new cultural understanding of media that is built around the value of curation, the power of peers, the link economy, passion as an asset, and celebrity as a currency. As a friend of mine reminds me via email from London, HuffPo, thanks to its roots, also has a keen understanding of the value of technology innovation to build platforms. Unlike old media companies, HuffPo groks scale.

And let’s not forget that HuffPo gets journalism. I remember a few years ago when Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, goaded Arianna in a talk before his staff about why she’d possibly want such as them: reporters who cost a lot and are pains to work with. Because their stories get more traffic, Arianna replied. She understands the value of reporting.

On Twitter just now, Jim Schachter of the NY Times (I work with him on the Local via CUNY, so we are brothers in hyperlocal) was wondering what Arianna’s ascension means for Aol’s soon-to-be 1,000-suburb-strong Patch. I think she can get them to add more human voice to it and think about aggregating regional and city-wide issues across them. Arianna has long thirsted after local and Patch gives her the scale to execute her imperialist strategy.

If this acquisition works, it will be because Arianna really is the boss of content and gets to scale her vision and because Aol brings its key strengths–ad sales and capital–to what comes next.

I’ll be eager to see what does come next.

* DISCLOSURE: I forget that I am listed as an advisor to Patch on its site. That should be taken at face value. I have no personal business relationship with Patch. I was asked to join its advisory board but because I have so many fingers in so many hyperlocal pies, I said that I’d be happy to chat with them but not be a compensated advisor. We meet now and again and work together via CUNY’s J-School on Patch in Brooklyn.

* MORE: The free-content thing…. I see snark passing on Twitter and heard some flak from a few Brits regarding what they see as HuffPo’s free-content problem: It doesn’t pay its writers. Well, neither does my blog but I do it anyway. Why? Because there are other values than payment from an employer (who often takes too much control in return). I write on this blog because I get attention, links, ideas, answers, criticism, an outlet. I crosspost on HuffPo — she this post there (how meta can you get?) — because I get more attention from a wider audience.

In the link economy, there are two creations of value and two opportunities to make use of that value: the creation of the content and the creation of the audience for it, via links. HuffPo brings me links to people and for me, it’s worth it to post there. No one — not even the quite persuasive Arianna — is forcing me. I do it out of my self-interest. Huffington Post was smart enough to build a business, a scalable and efficient business, out of that self-interest.

To think that content must be something that is created only by content companies that pay content people to create it is, like or not, outmoded. Content is no longer scarce, people. It is abundant. Google understands that. Twitter understands that. Huffington Post understands that. Sadly, old content people from old content companies still do not. Therein lies a lesson in this acquisition.

Meeting of the minds

Congrats to HuffingtonPost for snaring Betsy Morgan as its new CEO. Betsy was general manager of and I became her big fan after meeting her at various conferences (see, they do have a purpose). I was quoted in yesterday’s FT saying that they laughed when Arianna sat down to the keyboard, but she has created something incredible. Now friend Betsy will turn Arianna’s blogging phenom into a real media business.

The Yahoo Presidential Mush-up

The much vaunted Yahoo/Huffington Post/Slate presidential debate “mash-up” is a pathetic insult to the voters that is years behind in internet culture.

According to’s Sarah Lai Stirland, it was Yahoo who wussied out and decided not to put up the footage up on its mash-up video site for voters and viewers to remix.

No mashing here. Just more mush from the wimps.

So we end up with watching Charlie Rose and Bill Maher asking the candidates questions on the usual topics — do we have a shortage of this on TV debates? Where’s the interactivity? Well, we get to pick which videos to watch. Oooh, the freedom. It’s like a bad children’s museum: ‘Here, children, push this button. You won’t do any harm.’

We should be the ones asking the questions. We should be the ones selecting the questions. We should be the ones editing the questions.

Instead, they give us buttons to push. What an insult.

I am shocked that Huffington Post and Slate did not pull out of this venture when Yahoo ruined it. They should have. It’s yet more proof how behind Yahoo has left itself. The last old-media company, that’s what I call them. But they’re even older in mind and spirit than NBC, CNN, and ABC, which at least opened up their debate footage for us to reuse. Yahoo doesn’t put such an open license on this content. Yahoo doesn’t even make it easy for us to embed the videos. You can’t do it on their alleged “mash-up” page, only if you find the video on their video site, which isn’t easy with their bad search. Here’s one:

Huffington Post, Slate, and the candidates should insist that Yahoo make good on its word and make this video available for us to remix. It will still be pathetic — since we did not get the chance to ask and select the questions — but it would be just a little less pathetic.

LATER: I just posted this to Huffingtonpost, ending with this suggestion:

But I do wish that you would force them to enable the mash-up. For you see, it’s not just about us watching. It’s about us producing and broadcasting. We should be able to make our mash-ups and show them to the world. Indeed, why not go one step farther and take all the video from all the debates — since they are open to our unrestricted reuse — and put them together so we can produce and publish the ultimate mashups from the election so far? And then we can also see what questions have note been asked and answered. Then we can ask them the next time.

UPDATE: I just got email from Arianna Huffington saying that users will be able to take their playlists to Yahoo’s Jumpcut and then embed the results in their blogs. This is supposed to happen this afternoon. More later.

UPDATE: Here is the mashup page.