Arianna Huffington

I. Desperate Times Lead to... Desperate Metaphors

Ever since we decided to launch the Huffington Post, I'vetalked about how the future of journalism will be a hybrid future wheretraditional media players embrace the ways of new media (includingtransparency, interactivity and immediacy) and new media companies adoptthe best practices of old media (including fairness, accuracy andhigh-impact investigative journalism).

And with so many traditional media companies adapting to the newrealities, it was ridiculous to engage in an us vs. them, old media media argument. Either/or was the wrong way to look at things.

But playing nice has increasingly become a one-way street -- suddenlythe air is filled with shrill, nonsensical and misplaced verbal assaultson those in the new media.

Apparently, some in the old media have decided that it is, in fact,an either/or game and that the best way to save, if not journalism, atleast themselves, is by pointing fingers and calling names. It's atactic familiar to schoolyard inhabitants everywhere: when all elsefails, reach for the nearest insult and throw it aroundindiscriminately.

So now sites that aggregate the news have become, in the words ofRupert Murdoch and his team, "parasites," "contentkleptomaniacs," "vampires," "tech tapeworms in the intestines of theInternets" and, of course, thieves who "steal all our copyright."

It's the news industry equivalent of "your mama wears army boots!"Although, not quite as persuasive.

In most industries, if your customers were leaving in droves, youwould try to figure out what to do to get them back. Not in the media.They'd rather accuse aggregators of stealing their content.

Of course, any site can shut down the indexing of its content by Google any time itwants with a simple "disallow" in its robots.txt file. But be carefulwhat you wish for because as soon as you do that, and start denying yourcontent to other sites that aggregate and link back to the originalsource, you stand to lose a large part of your traffic overnight. But asthey say in Australia: "Good on ya." Of course assomeone who cares deeply about the future of this country, I'd say thathaving Glenn Beck not searchable by Google is an entirelygood thing. But a good business move? Not so much.

Thinking that removing your content from Google will somehow keep it "exclusive"shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the Web and how it works.As an experiment, Google the key terms from any interestingstory currently kept behind a paywall, on the Wall StreetJournal, for instance. And imagine no News Corp. source being included in the searchresults. You'd still get dozens and dozens of links to other sources --including many of the biggest news sites -- writing about the story,riffing on it, quoting from it and commenting on the key facts in it. Sowhat are you going to do, try to make the case that no one should beable to talk about or write about or comment on or report on the storiesyou make them pay for? It's a ridiculous notion.

I was recently on a panel in Monaco with MathiasDopfner, CEO of the German publisher Axel Springer. Hedecided to play a confusing metaphor game by comparing news content tobeer. "If it's your business decision to offer beer cans for free,fine," he said. "But don't take our beer and offer it for free."

This struck me as a really bizarre metaphor. Information is hardlythe same thing as a product that can only be consumed once by a singleperson. If you consume a news story, you might be one of millions. Ifyou consume a beer, no one else can consume it.

So it's a false metaphor. And if you start from a false premise, youwill inevitably be led to a false conclusion. Or, to put it another way,if you chug-a-lug too many of old media's metaphoric beers, you will endup staggering down the street of illogical thinking and banging into thelamp post of wrong revenue models.

In his speech Tuesday morning, Rupert Murdochconfused aggregation with wholesale misappropriation. Wholesalemisappropriation is against the law -- and he has legal redress againstthat already. Aggregation, on the other hand, within the fair useexceptions to copyright law is part of the Web's DNA. Period.

At the Huffington Post, aggregation goes along with atremendous amount of original content including original reporting andover 250 original blog posts a day. And we love it when someone links toone of our posts, or excerpts a small amount and links back to us.

Most sites understand the value of this and the way the link economyoperates. It's why the Huffington Post gets hundreds ofrequests from news outlets asking us to feature their material and linkback to their site. They understand that the Web is not a zero-sum gameand that consumers love the freedom to be able to follow where theirinterests -- and the offshoots of a story -- take them.

Plus, let's be honest, many of those complaining the loudest areworking both sides of the street. Take, for example, RupertMurdoch's NewsCorp. Just look at the sites News Corp. owns, as recently did,and you will see example after example after example of the pot callingthe kettle black. And aggregating its content.

The Wall Street Journal has a tech section that's nothingmore than a parasite -- uh, I mean, aggregator -- of outsidecontent. has a Politics Buzztracker that bloodsucks -- uh, I meanaggregates and links to -- stories from a variety of different sources,including the New YorkTimes, the WashingtonPost, MSNBC and others.

AllThingsD has a section called Voices that not only aggregatesheadlines, but also takes a nice chunk of text -- and puts the links outat the bottom of the story.

And Murdoch's NewsCorp. also owns IGN, which has a variety of Web properties,including the Rotten Tomatoes movie review aggregation site -- which isentirely made up of movie reviews pulled together from other places. Didsomeone say "stealing"?

Talk about having your aggregation cake and bitching about otherseating a slice, too.

That's why I could only roll my eyes when the Wall StreetJournal's Robert Thomson wagged his finger atGoogle, andcomplained that it "encourages promiscuity" among news consumers.

Heaven forbid! Let's be honest, while promiscuity is not good inrelationships, it's great for those looking for news and information.Trying to deny news consumers as wide a range of options and viewpointsas possible seems shortsighted -- and ultimately self-defeating. This isa Golden Age for news consumers who can surf the net, use searchengines, access the best stories from around the world, and be able tocomment, interact, and form communities. The value of having the worldof information at your fingertips is beyond dispute.

So it's time for traditional media companies to stop whining and facethe fact that far too many of them, lulled by a lack of competition andyears of pretax profits of 20 percent or more, put cash flow abovejournalism and badly misread the Web when it arrived on the scene. Thefocus was on consolidation, cost-cutting, and pleasing Wall Street --not modernization and pleasing their readers.

They were asleep at the wheel, missed the writing on the wall, letthe train leave the station, let the ship sail -- pick your metaphor --and quickly found themselves on the wrong side of the disruptiveinnovation the Internet and new media represent. And now they want tocall timeout, ask for a do-over, start changing the rules, lobby thegovernment to bail them out, and attack the new media for being . . .well, new. And different. And transformational. Suddenly it's all aboutthievery and parasites and intestines.

Get real, you guys. The world has changed. Here are some facts culledfrom one of the most popular anthems to the impact of technology on ourworld, a video originally put together by a math teacher, KarlFrisch:

Did you know that newspaper circulation is down 7 million over thepast 25 years while unique readership of online news is up 34 million inthe past five years?

Did you know newspaper advertising fell nearly 19 percent this yearwhile Web advertising is up 9 percent and mobile advertising is up 18percent?

Did you know that more video was uploaded to YouTube in the past twomonths than if ABC, CBS, and NBC hadbeen airing all-new content every minute of every day since 1948?

And did you know that we have access to more than 1 trillion webpages, 100,000 iPhone apps and send more text messages a day than thereare people on the planet? And Rupert Murdoch stillthinks aggregators are the problem?

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. And somethings are better while some things, for the moment, are worse in termsof upheaval and especially the painful loss of jobs. But this isunarguably a Brave New Media World. And there is no use living indigital denial.

The information superhighway is a busy thoroughfare and there's goingto be some road kill along the way. But only among those who insist onmerging into traffic riding a horse and buggy.

II. Desperate Times Lead To . . . Desperate Revenue Models!

Practically every day now, we hear about a new initiative designed to"harness digital media" and "get people to pay for their news on theWeb."

The big buzz last week was about News Corp.'s fantasies of breaking up with Google and tying theknot with Microsoft, giving its heart -- and all itscontent -- to Bing. I'll gladly wager my share of the HuffingtonPost that this ain't gonna happen.

The charge-for-content crowd seems to change strategies as often asLindsay Lohan switches meds. First paywalls were goingto be the answer. Then it was micropayments. Then per article purchases.Then day passes.

James Harding, editor of the LondonTimes and a member of Team Murdoch, recently said that hepreferred the idea of charging for 24-hour access to his paper's Website over the use of micropayments, which he fears could lead tonewspapers, and I quote, "writing a lot more about BritneySpears and a lot less about Tamils in northern SriLanka." For those of you up on Britney but not on the Tamils,they were on the losing side of the Sri Lankan civil war.

In any case, only 3 percent of consumers say they prefer themicropayment method. But, hey, who cares what they prefer . . . they areonly consumers!

Now, James Harding is a really nice, really smartguy and Times Online is a really great site, but, seriously, on whatgrounds would readers decide that on any particular day instead ofsurfing around the Web, clicking on the stories they find interesting,snacking, sampling, and moving on -- or digging deeper by following alink -- they are going to purchase a 24-hour pass to every bit ofcontent on just one single site? Is it because, of course you fool,Tuesdays at the Times are always so much newsier than everywhere else?Or will readers save their money until Thursdays and pay for The Sunbecause they have more boobs and bottoms that day? I mean, Tamils inSri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Stephen Brill's Journalism Onlinereportedly has 16 different payment schemes that it plans to offer itsmember publishers. Nieman Lab recently listed six paymentmodels that Brill has trademarked, and that news publishers canemploy.

These include: High activity Pay Points (a metered model); SelectedContent Pay Points (a partial paywall); Time-based Pay Points (chargingfor new content only); Enhanced Service Pay Points (charging for specialfeatures); Market Access Pay Points (charges based on a users location);and Preview Activity Pay Points (allowing previewing of paidcontent).

In other words, it's payment made simple!

Or take the New YorkTimes. A quick search of headlines in the business press showsthat in the summer of 2009 it was, "New York Times Company CEO Confirms Likelihood ofPaywall for NYT Content by Autumn." By September that had become: "NewYork Times Paywall Decision to Be 'Gut Call.'" By November it hadbecome: "New York Times Paywall Decision Coming Within Weeks."

It amazes me that Murdoch and Brill and the Paywall Team at the Timescontinue to believe that people are prepared to pay for news online --despite the recent survey showing that 80 percent of U.S. news consumerssay they "wouldn't bother" to read news and magazines online if thecontent were no longer free.

Sure, free news content is not a perfect system, but it's a lot likewhat Churchill said about democracy: it "is the worst form of governmentexcept all the others that have been tried." That's the reality. Freecontent is not without problems. But it's here to stay, and publishersneed to come to terms with that and figure out how to make it work forthem.

And all across the country, passionate entrepreneurs are doing justthat, experimenting with new and creative revenue models. TechDirt.comis monetizing its engaged and highly informed community by turning theminto focus-groups-for-hire. ProPublica is using a not-for-profit modelto produce impact investigative journalism. And there are many differentpowerful local journalism models, including Voice of SanDiego, which supports its award-winning local journalism witha combination of advertising and public radio-style contributions fromfoundations and users.

The new paths to success are still being charted -- and much remainsuncertain. But this much is clear: we can't use an analog map and expectto find our way in a digital word.

III. Desperate Times Desperately Call for Better Journalism

Here is what we must not forget: Our current media culture (with afew honorable exceptions) failed to serve the public interest by missingthe two biggest stories of our time: the run-up to the war inIraq and the financial meltdown. In both instances,there were plenty of people who got it right, who saw what was comingand warned about it, but they weren't given much of a voice or weredrowned out by the thumping sound of journalists walking inlockstep.

As a result, we've had far too many autopsies of what went wrong andnot enough biopsies of what was about to go wrong. Many importantstories have died on the front pages of newspapers. Online media, on theother hand, are particularly well-suited to obsessively follow a storyuntil it breaks through the static. When new media journalists decidethat something matters, they chomp down hard and refuse to let go.They're the true pit bulls of reporting.

We hear lots and lots of talk these days about saving newspapers --Congressional anti-trust exemptions, perhaps? -- but we mustn't forget:The state of newspapers is not the same thing as the state ofjournalism. As much as I love newspapers -- and fully expect them tosurvive -- the future of journalism is not dependent on the future ofnewspapers.

Indeed, the future of journalism is to be found, at least partly, inthe rapidly growing number of people who connect with the news in awhole new way.

News is no longer something we passively take in. We now engage withnews, react to news and share news. It's become something around whichwe gather, connect and converse. We all are part of the evolution of astory now -- expanding it with comments and links to relevantinformation, adding facts and differing points of view.

In short, the news has become social. And it will become even morecommunity-powered: stories will be collaboratively produced by editorsand the community. And conversations, opinion and reader reactions willbe seamlessly integrated into the news experience.

We saw the power of citizen journalism during the uprising earlierthis year in Iran. People tweeting fromdemonstrations and uploading video of brutal violence taken with theircamera phones were able to tell a story, in real-time, and circumventthe efforts of the regime to control the media and the flow ofinformation.

In fact, the new paradigm was illustrated perfectly by the New York Times, which coveredthe story both in the old way and the new way. The former came by way ofexecutive editor Bill Keller who was inTehran for the election. Three days after thefraudulent vote, and well after the street protests had been revved upand hundreds of videos had been uploaded and thousands of tweets hadbeen posted, he reported: "With this election, Mr. Khamenei and (Mr.Ahmadinejad) appear to have neutralized for now the reform forces thatthey saw as a threat to their power, political analysts said."

Uh, not exactly.

At the same time, the Times also ran an aggregation blog byRobert Mackey that was, like the terrific one ournational editor Nico Pitney did on the HuffingtonPost, a 24/7 nerve center of updates, video and tweets -- largelyby citizen journalists.

Citizen journalists can play a key role in investigative journalism.At the Huffington Post, they help shape our stories inmultiple ways -- from whistleblowing to combing through thousands ofpages of bills and government documents to being part of our BearingWitness 2.0 project, finding great stories from across the country thatput flesh and blood on the statistics and consequences of our economiccrisis.

And yet the contributions of citizen journalists, bloggers and otherswho aren't paid to cover the news are constantly mocked and derided bythe critics of new media who clearly don't understand that technologyhas enabled millions of consumers to shift their focus from passiveobservation to active participation -- from couch potato toself-expression. Writing blogs, sending tweets, updating yourFacebook page, editing photos, uploading videos and makingmusic are just a few of the active entertainment options now available.But when the data began to show a significant shift in consumer habits,traditional media responded by belittling Web journalism.

The same people who never question why consumers would sit on a couchand watch TV for eight hours straight can't understand why someone wouldfind it rewarding to weigh in on the issues -- great and small -- thatinterest them. For free. They don't understand the people who contributeto Wikipedia for free, who maintain their own blogs for free, whoTwitter for free, who constantly refresh and update theirFacebook page for free, who want to help tell the stories ofwhat is happening in their lives and in their communities . . . forfree.

At the Huffington Post, and at the Huffington PostInvestigative Fund, we deeply value the role of professionalreporters and editors, and have dozens of them on payroll. And we thinkthe value of editors will only increase as the constant stream ofinformation coming at us continues to swell -- making trusted guides andcurators more and more essential to keeping us from being sweptaway.

But there is no denying that thousands and thousands of other peoplewant in on the process and have much to contribute to it. And thatnumber will only continue to grow. To deride the value of theircontributions is to completely misunderstand the world we live in.

And the sooner we all embrace that world, the sooner we'll be able tostop the name calling, put aside the increasingly desperate metaphorsand increasingly desperate revenue models and focus on what reallymatters: ensuring that in the future, journalism will not only survive,but be strengthened and thrive.