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Arianna Huffington's Media Space: Is Traditional Journalism Obsolete?

by Elaine Fogel  |  
October 23, 2008

I'm at the MarketingProfs Digital Mixer in Phoenix, where Arianna Huffington just completed her lunch keynote entitled, "Changing the Brave New World of the 'New Media': How Technology is Changing the Way We Think, Learn, Play, Work and Vote." Before I continue, let me say what a dynamic and brilliant woman she is. The Huffington Post has changed the landscape for journalism, empowering bloggers to report the news from a multitude of locations and backgrounds. The question is... will it make traditional journalism obsolete?

There are certainly pros and cons to this form of amateur journalism. Unlike some traditional media that move on to newer items of interest, bloggers often stay with stories, digging for the "truth." As Huffington says, "Bloggers do not have attention deficit disorder, we have obsessive compulsive disorder."
She cites how exciting and rewarding this approach can be, when bloggers - regular citizens - have the power to imfluence change, especially in politics. I suppose that without deadlines, management directives, or the need to build market share as a mission, bloggers can pick away at stories like an animal picks away its wounds, uncovering the raw skin beneath.
But, there's a down side. Huffington claims that The Huffington Post focuses on the truth of the issues. Although she admits that the publication has a slant, there is an inherent philosophy to focus on the facts. But, with bloggers responsible for their own content, how consistently accurate can these "facts" be? Yes, the publication can post retractions when inaccuracies come to light, but like the small correction textboxes on page two of a newspaper, who really sees it?
Perhaps, this is a sign of the times. When once we trusted our morning papers and dinner-hour news broadcasts to give us the "real" news of the day, traditional media now blurs the lines between factual reporting and opinion, too. How many people tune into Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow or Bill O'Reilly as their only news source?
Don't get me wrong. I like The Huffington Post and having the ability to receive RSS feeds with customized news content, I just wonder if traditional journalism is becoming obsolete. It will be interesting to see how it evolves with the continued growth of blogging and Web 2.0.
What do you think?

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Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, and a marketing and branding thought leader, speaker, writer, and MarketingProfs contributor. She is the author of the Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most for Small Business Success.

LinkedIn: Elaine Fogel

Twitter: @Elaine_Fogel

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  • by Paul B Thu Oct 23, 2008 via blog

    Hi Elaine, thanks for this post. I am challenged whether in blogosphere, or mainstream news (TV, print etc) to find a publication without a slant. I think bloggers have been a force in helping keep the news media honest, and in some instances break stories that the mainstream press is slow to pick up. Every message and news source should be evaluated with a critical eye to examine bias, motive, agenda etc. In my opinion--and call me a cynic, but there is no "trusted name in news".

  • by Steve Woodruff Thu Oct 23, 2008 via blog

    While there is a wide spectrum of reliability and skill among bloggers (and journalists too, of course), one huge plus is that we now have unfettered quality control. You can't hide stuff anymore. And that is good!

  • by Lewis Green Thu Oct 23, 2008 via blog

    I agree with Steve. Bloggers are quick to research stories they might believe stretch the truth. However, untrained journalists and bloggers who don't do primary research remain a risky source for news. So keep checking the facts fellow bloggers but leave the heavy lifting to the pros.

  • by David Reich Thu Oct 23, 2008 via blog

    I agree with Lewis here. "Citizen journalists" leave me a little uneasy, because they're not trained reporters and they usually have no editing/vetting process in place. I'm not a regular reader of Huffington Post, but from what I've seen, they do try to be careful with their facts. If amateur journalists contribute to a site that edits and fact-checks, I'm all for it. But as for blogs (including my own), we're on our own and must be cautious about accepting all we read as accurate.

  • by Elaine Fogel Thu Oct 23, 2008 via blog

    Paul, I agree with you. A critical eye is crucial when evaluating news. That works well for those who are resourceful and motivated. What about the "Joe Six-Packs," as the McCain-Palin campaign calls average citizens? They often take what they see and hear in the media as factual. Steve, I also agree with you. Bloggers can play a role in keeping the media and those "in the news" honest. That's the plus side of amateur journalism. Lewis, as always, you have a talent for encapsulating the issue. I agree with you but with one cautionary comment. How do bloggers do primary research without a budget? Bloggers are usually unpaid, amateur journalists. Chances are they use secondary research they find online. So, it's possible that they are vulnerable to unchecked information, too. The solution in the long-term is to ensure that school curricula include media literacy classes.

  • by Water conservation lessons Fri Oct 24, 2008 via blog

    Even i like Huffington's Post....:-)

  • by Kevin F Fri Oct 24, 2008 via blog

    I couldn't agree with Paul B more! While the HP is an entertaining outlet for what's now and what's new, it should not be confused with journalism any more than drudgereport is. The unfortunate impact of citizen journalism is that the news agencies have adapted to this new "eyeballs" threat by having an agenda. I barely remember Walter Cronkite, but I do remember Tim Russert. His passing is already having an impact of loosening what remained of journalistic integrity. It is unfortunate that we've adopted the "it's new, it must be improved" aesthetic.

  • by Elaine Fogel Fri Oct 24, 2008 via blog

    Thanks, "Water" and Kevin. I'm not so sure that news agencies are biased because of blogging. Perhaps being owned by large corporations, each with its own agenda, has caused this metamorphosis. I do remember Walter Cronkite (OK, I was young), and the anchors of the day were revered in ways we'll never see again. That doesn't mean their reporting was uber pure in objectivity, but it seems that journalism, as a profession, was cleaner then and journalists strove for impartiality. We still have some of that today, but with the advent of 24/7 cable news, competition is stronger and like all broadcast media, ratings can dictate policies.

  • by Eric Hoffman Fri Oct 24, 2008 via blog

    I think that it is interesting to think about Huffington's comments in light of the news this morning that the NY Times Company just reported a 51% decline in 3rd quarter profit. So, in looking at this financial news, is the mainstream media outlets' economic model a dinosaur in the digital age?

  • by Barbara Phillips Long Sun Oct 26, 2008 via blog

    It is hard for me, as a working journalist, to know which way to go responding to this post. So I will raise a series of points that are related and ask all of you to give them serious thought. Let's start with this quote from the post above: "Before I continue, let me say what a dynamic and brilliant woman she is. The Huffington Post has changed the landscape for journalism, empowering bloggers to report the news from a multitude of locations and backgrounds. The question is... will it make traditional journalism obsolete?" 1. The Huffington Post may "empower" bloggers, but it doesn't pay them. For Huffington, this isn't a problem, because she has become prominent enough to be in demand as a speaker, so she has income coming in. Many bloggers without her advantages are not going to be able to earn enough from a sideline business, such as making speeches or publishing books, to provide reliable income. 2. Blogs that do not have widespread followings because they are niche products may not be cost-effective for the bloggers who hope to make money as a result of their blogs (whether or not the blog itself garners traffic or is popular). 3. Conflation of national news, U.S. political discourse and local news has resulted in comments about the "mainstream media" that are useless to many news organizations. To slam all reporters as having "bias" or being "dinosaurs" does not answer the problem of efficiently supplying local news in local markets, a niche product that will always be more expensive to produce (per reader) than political commentary on national issues or candidates. Enough already about my putative "agenda" when I'm putting in the news about the local Kiwanis, the church supper list, the school menus and the fire company fundraiser. 4. The design of search engines, which do not compensate creators of intellectual property for the creation of that property, is a model that could lead to the decline in quality and quantity of certain kinds of intellectual property, such as news about local government or school systems. (Radio stations pay BMI and ASCAP to broadcast many works, and libraries buy books, newspapers and magazines. Search engines are more like scavengers, except that people have been persuaded to put steak in the backyard for the vultures instead of leaving them to harvest road kill.) 5. If news production is outsourced overseas or relegated to hobby status, will U.S. citizens be better off? Will there be a new age of civic engagement where local citizens in every village and township and borough make a hobby of being civic watchdogs and of fact-checking rumor and public records? 6. Open information on the Internet has the potential for huge amounts of good around the world, but it also has the potential of dividing citizens into the haves and have-nots, particularly in poor, rural areas -- regions with the least political power and the least connectivity to the Internet. This is as true in the rural U.S. as it is in other countries. 7. The ubiquity of the Internet may isolate conservative religious groups, such as the Amish, in ways that have unexpected consequences. Businesses that don't wish to operate on the Sabbath, for instance, have issues with the 24/7 nature of the Internet. 8. Dependence on central power grids will increase if the Internet becomes the main distribution method for news and for commerce. Development of alternate energy sources, such as solar power, to decentralize the power grid and keep it powered up without reliance on coal, natural gas or nuclear energy, is not being pursued seriously enough on the national level. 9. Families need to encourage reading, and we need to find ways to encourage citizens to be well-informed. 10. The power of "ordinary citizens" as bloggers is probably overstated. The Internet is also a popularity contest, and affiliation with particular groups and networks matters in the land of the link. 11. New economic models are needed for journalism. Whether newspapers and other news sites on the Internet will eventually become like NPR, seeking a mix of government, public and grant support, or whether news sites will become more like public utilities or some other business model, I don't know. I am very troubled by the number of layoffs in the newspaper business. 12. Whatever form news takes in the future, the U.S. as a whole would benefit from objective standards for the truth of facts. The spin factories may be facing more fact-checking, but we haven't gotten to the point yet where people always ask whether something is factual before believing what they're told, whether it is about alternative medicine and folk remedies, politics, evolution, teaching methods or any number of other topics that can be researched.

  • by Elaine Fogel Sun Oct 26, 2008 via blog

    Thanks for taking the time to write, Barbara. You make some excellent points. 1. I agree. Blogging takes considerable time, and those who are resident bloggers for the HPost and others do it gratis. Especially in this tough economy, it'll be interesting to see how many have to reduce their efforts in order to earn a real income. 3. I have often wondered why local news outlets report on national and global issues. Isn't that what the national news is for? I understand the importance of covering local markets and that operating local stations has a higher cost. But, why don't they save money and let the national journalists cover big things like the Olympics? Our local NBC affiliate sent two journalists to Beijing and I didn't "get" why they incurred that expense. 4. Good point. The Internet also allows for others to "steal" intellectual property without that much risk. Go file legal suit against a site in New Zealand that posts your articles. Not too practical. 5. Absolutely not. We definitely need professional journalism. The emphasis being on "professional." 9. As a former educator, I agree wholeheartedly. Kids need to read and should be encouraged to be informed, hence my suggestion for more media literacy classes. 12. Many people are gullible, believing that what they hear or see is the gospel truth. That may be a result of many factors - poor education, lack of inquisitiveness, laziness to do the research, lack of time, etc. As an immigrant in the U.S., I would personally like to see more news about the world. American media seem so U.S. centric to me. I hate to point this out, but the U.S. is not the epicenter of the universe. Other things do go on elsewhere. 11. I still want to read in-depth news and analysis in print. I imagine that many middle-aged and older adults would feel this way as eyesight deteriorates. What concerns me is that many young people are only getting snippets of the news on mainstream broadcast and electronic media. It's sad what's happening in the newspaper business. Thanks again, Barbara.

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