What’s Huffington Doing To Journalism?

Since Huffington added virtually nothing to this story their original headline/link should have gone directly to the Sun-Times. Instead they “linkjacked.”

I visit Huffington Post on a regular basis, but I am more-and-more convinced the site is bad for journalism. The bigger it gets the worse it is. Though some of HuffPo’s content is their own much is not. In essence Huffington acts like a neighbor running his house off your electric meter. Whatever they get is at the expense of their host!

First an Internet fact of life. Because of the power of Google and other search engines a site’s importance (measured by page rank and other factors) is like money in the bank. Google drives traffic (even on this little blog). If Huffington and I post the same content word-for-word search engines are much more likely to point to Huffington because it is a more linked to and cited source.

In some cases that’s good, but Huffington’s online reputation is often built on using/taking content from those they compete with.

A case in point is a headline from Huffington yesterday, “After Meeting With Execs, Union Leaders Still Opposed to Wal-Mart.” I have strong opinions on Wal-Mart. I am a union member. I clicked the link.

Huffington’s content consisted of one sentence (a quote I think) and a link to the company that paid employees to actually report the story, the Chicago Sun-Times. Huffington’s entry is loaded with keywords to enhance this story in the eyes of search engines. They’re listed following “Read More:.”

Since Huffington added virtually nothing to this story their original headline/link should have gone directly to the Sun-Times. Instead they “linkjacked.” Huffington gets one more page view and, in some cases, probably satisfies the reader’s curiosity with their single sentence therefore cutting the Sun-Times out entirely.

Is this illegal? Probably not. Is this unethical? I don’t know, but it is very troubling because it’s possible Huffington and others like it will suck the Sun-Times of this world dry without replacing their reporting.

Other sites are similar, but I think Huffington’s model is a step beyond… a step worse than Google News or even Drudge.

4 thoughts on “What’s Huffington Doing To Journalism?”

  1. But doesn’t Google News just pull from the internet? I know there have been links to News8 and the other stations when a major CT story breaks.

  2. I visit Huffington Post myself, and Geoff they all pull from one another.
    News stations will do they same, especially PIX, oops can I say that??
    They just change a few words, put a different spin on the stories and make it their own.
    I have seen Yahoo as of late doing the same………….

  3. I worked over 7 years as the website editor for the second-largest newspaper in Phoenix, so know a thing or two about online news.

    When the Huffington Post does nothing more than post links to stories on other websites, along with a catchy headline, summary and glut of keywords, you are dead right Geoff that it is going after page views. It’s along the lines of what it’s conservative counterpart, DrudgeReport.com, does for its mainstay business.

    While it seems unethical it first glance, here’s why it’s not: The websites which Huffington redirects toward will gladly accept the huge amount of additional traffic they receive from the link(s) on other sites. I’ve personally seen a single story at the old EastValleyTribune.com (the site doesn’t exist anymore) get 200,000-300,000 page views thanks to just one link from Drudge. The extra traffic was huge for us!

    But here is the drawback, and what substantiates the chagrin expressed in your blog: Huffington is disappointing its own readers when they expect to see a staff story or blog, and instead end up getting redirected to another website. It creates a false sense of hope and a letdown effect for people who enjoy Huffington, because they end up getting pushed to another site.

    In the long-run, Huffington will lose some visitors (perhaps like yourself) who get tired of this disappointing link-grabbing tactic, and are not fans of a news website doubling as a link exchange.

    But the losses won’t likely entice them to stop doing this.

  4. You’re 100% correct about HuffPo (among many others) using what is effectively link-baiting as its primary business model. But HuffPo never quite claimed to be a news organization. They’re working in that nebulous “blog” category, where the rules are pretty much non-existent. Fuzzy at best.

    I believe that much greater harm to journalism comes from this: EVERY mainstream media outlet — broadcast, cable, print, internet — has come to accept the practice of simply parroting others’ reporting and presenting it as original content. There couldn’t be anything less journalistically sound than publishing “facts” that have not been independently verified by the reporter writing the story. Could you even begin to imagine the Watergate story being reported this way? Would Woodward and Bernstein have cited a story on a local TV station or another newspaper as a source? How can a reporter question a source that is in the story, but he’s never even met or even spoken to?

    By including such lines as “CNN is reporting…” or, “according to a story in today’s Los Angeles Times…”, a news outlet is not reporting; it’s simply repeating, and there’s a big difference between the two. It creates an echo chamber, with fewer and fewer enterprising reporters, but more and more content aggregators repeating what everybody else said. This is not a good thing for society. The explosion of cable news and internet news may actually have created fewer voices, not more, and at the same time it’s killing the news industry. No consumer will pay for the same “news” that can be found, verbatim, from any other source.

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