Thursday 19 June 2008

Arianna Huffington at the BBC

Earlier today I went to see Arianna Huffington speak at an event for BBC journalists at Television Centre. She's the founder of the Huffington Post - liberal US blogs website-cum-Internet Newspaper.

I've written about the war reporting aspect over at the Frontline Club which you can go to now by clicking here.

But below I thought I'd stick some other thoughts up on the virtual paper.

1. A few facts about the Huffington Post:
  • 2,000 plus bloggers, who aren't paid. (Nor are 'the citizen journalists')
  • Last month the site had 600,000 comments
  • Arianna reckons it takes 3 minutes for a mistake by a blogger to be corrected
  • 55 people on staff
  • 30 people who work part time moderating comments (how many of the 600,000 do they get through?)
  • Funded by advertising
  • Planning to expand locally and globally

2. Arianna started the website after seeing the way in which bloggers forced Trent Lott to resign as a Senator after he made racist comments at a birthday party way back in 2002. She recognised this as a major new development and wanted to be a part of it.

3. She said the Huffington Post believes in a "very old-fashioned and idealistic" form of journalism, emphasising the importance of establishing the facts, "ferreting out the truth", and presenting a clear distinction between news and opinion.

4. Giving two sides of a story equal weight wasn't something Arianna was keen on if one side had a better case. But importantly nor was she advocating a move towards an entirely partisan media and highlighted the necessity of considering different points of view and reporting news that questioned 'your side' of the story.

As the chair of proceedings pointed out, this is a challenge to BBC journalists who are trained in the principal of impartiality. Though I think it's time to move beyond the 'one side against the other' definition of impartiality and consider how impartiality is enhanced by blogs as they provide a space for a multiplicity of views and angles on a story.

5. Addressing a concern about amateur journalism, Arianna felt there's an exciting future ahead for journalism that combines the skills of trained journalists and the advantages of using 'citizen journalists' - particularly their ability to access places that trained journalists for whatever reason cannot reach.

6. There was an interesting discussion about 'off the record' conversations. This was in reference to the actions of Mayhill Fowler who broke this story about Bill Clinton recently. Some journalists felt this 61 year old 'citizen journalist', who was acting on behalf of the Huffington Post, had broken some journalistic rules by not telling Bill Clinton who she was before she published the former President's diatribe about a Vanity Fair article.

Arianna thought Fowler should have introduced herself but maintained that the exchange happened in public and should therefore be deemed 'on-the-record' in any case. She did not rule out using 'off-the-record' conversations but was concerned about the use of anonymous sources in the media.

7. And as a final thought - it may have started as a group of blogs but isn't the Huffington Post already part of the mainstream media? It's now styled as an 'Internet Newspaper' after all with a full time staff. Oppositional definitions of 'blogs', and 'mainstream media' will have to be reconsidered (if they haven't already).

Links to other coverage:

  • Robin Hamman claims the first blog post on the event and now has other links too. Also you can check out his photos here.
  • The result of Rory Cellan-Jones's arm-ache inducing video coverage is here.
  • Richard Sambrook's not convinced about the Huffington Post's plans for global expansion


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