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At the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City, Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, used her time on stage to ostensibly deliver the type of message the audience was looking for.
She lambasted the mainstream news media and proclaimed:
"The main problem with the old media is that they've given up the pursuit of the truth for the pursuit of fake neutrality, which means that they present every story and every issue as if it has two sides."
According to Huffington:
"The truth is not always to be found by splitting the difference. The earth is not flat, period. There is no other side to this issue. Evolution is a fact, (sorry Mike Huckabee.) There is no other side to this issue. The war in Iraq is an unqualified catastrophe. As far as I’m concerned, there is no other side to this issue."
I found such comments interesting because they highlight just how flawed Huffington's beliefs are vis-à-vis journalism.
Huffington is not the arbiter of " truth " and while she believes certain subjects are about as debatable as the earth's shape, the " truth " is that there usually is more than one side to every story.
We live in a world of gray (not black and white) and the news media's job is to accurately report as much relevant information as is possible on subjects of importance and interest so that individuals can analyze that information and draw their own conclusions.
Huffington, on the other hand, seems to desire a landscape in which pseudo-journalists and self-styled media moguls judge what is right and wrong and present their views as "truths" without any room for debate and discussion.
Ironically, she went on to state:
"The worst part of traditional journalism is this pretense that somehow you have no opinions... this pretense that you're simply reporting fact, so there's no opinion to be changed."
Cannot opinion be changed only when both sides of a story are compared and contrasted?
The contradictions between Huffington's statements aside, once again, Huffington demonstrates that she clearly doesn't understand the news media.
The mainstream news media is not without opinion. In fact there is plenty of it - from editorials to shows dedicated to giving opinionated personalities like Keith Olbermann a platform to voice their opinions.
Huffington apparently does not appreciate that, more often than not, opinion is easily distinguished from objective reporting in the mainstream news media.
While I have no intention of trying to figure out what Huffington is thinking, it would appear that she prefers a news media in which opinion is injected into all reporting, sort of like the one-sided interpretations of political news found on The Huffington Post.
Despite the fact that Huffington's views on journalism appear to be as distorted as her views on "truth," she somehow knows all the ingredients of good journalism:
"Huffington said that the keys to good journalism online, or anywhere else, are transparency, accountability and community, and an unwavering focus on developing stories."
Reality check for Huffington and her fellow wannabe media moguls:
- New Media is hardly transparent. Case in point - in 2006, The Huffington Post took quotes from two George Clooney interviews and "assembled" them into a blog post that was passed off as Clooney's own writing. Clooney called The Huffington Post's actions "purposefully misleading."
Huffington claimed that there was a miscommunication and that the post had been "approved" but Clooney's publicist refuted that and stated "she [Huffington] knows what she was doing."
Whatever the case, the mere fact that Huffington would "assemble" a post from third-party interview quotes and have the gall to pass it off as an authentic post (with or without approval) is about as opaque as journalism can get and says a lot about Huffington's journalistic integrity.
Of course, this isn't entirely surprising. As I've pointed out before, unlike the mainstream news media, which has widely-held and widely-accepted editorial and ethical standards, New Media has few.
- New Media is hardly accountable. Once again, because there are no widely-held and widely-accepted standards in the world of New Media, outfits like The Huffington Post are realistically accountable only to themselves - meaning they're about as accountable as they choose to be.
Last week, for instance, I caught TechCrunch engaging in copy and paste "press release journalism." TechCrunch, of course, is run by Michael Arrington, whose views on mainstream journalism are similar in nature to those of Huffington.
My exposure of TechCrunch's journalistic faux pas, of course, went unnoticed and as far as I know, Arrington hasn't felt obligated to explain the situation to anybody, including his readers.
- Community has value and can play a role in the news media but it isn't an essential part of actually reporting the news.
For what it's worth, an increasing number of mainstream news media outlets are implementing "social media" features on their websites.
- New Media regurgitates and spins stories more than it develops them and when it does develop stories, the emphasis seems to be on breaking stories first and fact-checking later.
Furthermore, I have repeatedly noted that New Media lacks the resources to provide the type of global coverage mainstream news media provides. Of course, New Media loves having its cake and eating it too - the coverage provided by mainstream news agencies like AP often serves as the basis for New Media's "reporting."
Frankly, I feel that if people like Huffington spent half as much time trying to truly practice better journalism as they did complaining about mainstream journalism, they just might get us somewhere.
As it stands now, the constant bickering in the blogosphere about the ills of mainstream journalism seems to distract from the fact that New Media hasn’t really decided what type of journalism it wants to practice.
Right now, all I hear is a description of a better product but nobody can actually show it to me.
The reason is quite simple - there is no better product. Huffington is all rhetoric. She's a vocal promoter of a perspective that supports her business. And let's make no mistake about it - it is a business.
What’s perhaps most disturbing about the state of New Media today is that before a prominent figure like Huffington has even proven her worth as a journalist, she has decided that the "truth" is often obvious and that any attempt to remain neutral or present multiple sides of a story is a superfluous exercise.
While the mainstream news media is far from perfect and is no stranger to shortcomings and outright failures, in New Media’s short life it has become very familiar with shortcomings and outright failures as well.
Huffington’s curious positions on “truth,” “neutrality,” “transparency” and “accountability” indicate to me that New Media just might end up being even more vulnerable to them.