Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Learning How To Link Bait: Arianna and NYTimes Chief Bill Keller Sling Mud Over A Mundane Insight

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 10, 2011

A tempest in a teapot is probably a too generous way to describe the online spat between Arianna Huffington and Bill Keller, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times.

Mr Keller (above) accused Ms Huffington of using his original ideas in a radio interview. The attack was made in a column by Mr Keller in which he described news aggregators, such as The Huffington Post, as engaging in piracy. That "piracy" was extended to claim that Ms Huffington appropriated his insights into the future of journalism.

How great is Huffington's instinctive genius for aggregation? I once sat beside her on a panel in Los Angeles (on -- what else? -- The Future of Journalism). I had come prepared with a couple of memorized riffs on media topics, which I duly presented. Afterward we sat down for a joint interview with a local reporter. A moment later I heard one of my riffs issuing verbatim from the mouth of Ms. Huffington. I felt so . . . aggregated.

The vigilant Ms Huffington quickly shot back claiming that Mr Keller's attack was because of the superior traffic numbers of The Huffington Post compared to the august Grey Lady.

She also searched through transcripts of her prior interviews over the past few years and found out that it was Mr Keller that was stealing from her and not the other way around.

So what was this grand insight into the future of journalism that each claims ownership?

That traditional media and new media would merge into a hybrid media using the tools and best practices of both.

Ms Huffington had told interviewers:

...purely online news operations like The Huffington Post are more and more adopting the most traditional, basic tenets of journalism. Accuracy, fairness, fact-checking, reporters, more and more editors, and mainstream traditional operations like the New York Times or NPR are adopting more and more of the digital tools that can bring in the community to make it part of the creation of journalism, through citizen journalism, through reports from the ground, through video, through Twitter feeds, through all the new media available to us.

This incredibly obvious observation is being claimed as an original insight into the future of journalism by both Ms Huffington and Mr Keller.

I can find precedent to these ideas in my own work and that of others -- years before these titans of the mediasphere noticed what was happening.

These days these kinds of insights aren't worth fighting over -- they are incredibly obvious to everyone and their grandmothers.

However, if your business model stands or falls based on traffic -- link baiting spectacles such as this are understandable.

But it would have been better to choose a more impressive topic to fight over.


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