Huffington Post-ization of the Media

Tom Barnett‘s latest book tour has him frustrated with much of the mainstream press, whose preference for cuteness and brevity makes discussion of complex ideas next to impossible.  He contrasts this with talk radio, where he can have a long back-and-forth.  He closes:

Long story short: after a day of many disappointing feedbacks from the MSM world, I feel a lot better after spending the time with someone willing to explore the complexity with me, even when he often disagrees with several of my tactical choices and strategic imperatives.

But that’s the debate we’re missing right now in the MSM. I have to admit: the older I get, the more I buy into the blogosphere’s notions that the MSM is deeply dysfunctional. As they drop from the print world and become glorified Huffington news aggregators, I’m not so sure anymore that I’ll miss them.

Presumably, he’s talking about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which announced over the weekend that they’re doing precisely that.

What’s currently happening on the P-I homepage fits with what I’m hearing: the online-only P-I, as it is currently being conceived over on Elliott Avenue, will be, in part, an aggregator.

As Josh in the comments says, this is “a big deal.” Another commenter offered a one-word summation of the transformation: “PI HuffPo.”

They’re right. It’s hard to overstate how big a change this represents. For a daily newspaper to abandon its belief that important local news should be conveyed first through its own trusted reporters, and its own trusted reporters only, is a tremendous shift. It fits with something else that’s been becoming more clear lately: Hearst wants to hold on to the P-I brand, and the online traffic that comes with it, but it is ready to jettison a lot of old notions about what makes a journalistic enterprise.

At some point, a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind.  Aggregating the news is a very useful service if done well.  It ain’t, however, journalism.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It ain’t, however, journalism.

    If it ain’t, then 90% of what most newspapers have been doing over the period of the last half century hasn’t been journalism, either. Anybody ever heard of the Associated Press?

  2. James Joyner says:

    I don’t consider wire services to be aggregators but rather outsourcing. They do original reporting and achieve economies of scale by wide syndication. That’s a different animal than simply providing links to various blog posts and other papers.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. In a hypertext world there’s not much difference between linking to something and putting the text of an AP article on page 4.

  4. Bithead says:

    If there’s one thing that the Huff-Po shows us, though, it’s that shaorter and yes sometimes snarky articles, tend to rely more on the manipulation of the reader’s emotions, than they rely on the facts of the case. In a world where so much of the politics of the day is centered on emotional, and not logical responses…(Ex; “Obama will pay my rent”) it’s easy to see what they’re after, here.

    And Dave, the difference is, that at least putting the article up on age four, gives one the direct exposure to whatever investigative reporting is contained in that article. With a link that lessens somewhat.

    I suggest that to some degree, this is the result of the success of blogs such as Reynolds, and Drudge, who get far more in the way of readership than does PI or any newspaper based site. I’d be interested to see what if any changes are made to the newspaper itself, however. At some point, someone’s actually gotta do some investigation and writing.

  5. I think this is confusing the medium with the message, with, of course, apologies to Marshall McLuhan. The Huffington Post and the overwhelming majority of bloggers offer opinion, not news. The Seattle PI switching to an online format would not make them at all like the Huffington Post, if they still predominantly published news, i.e., did journalism. Alas, news lost out to opinion in newspapers and aggregators (or outsourcers) like the AP long ago.