Former Washington Post Editor Len Downie: Huffington Post a 'Parasite'

It appears that the Huffington Post isn’t just upsetting people for its often uncouth and liberal take on the day’s news. Now people are getting irritated with its willingness to reprint other outlet’s content while offering minimal credit.

And so goes the view of former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie, Jr., author of “The Rules of the Game.” During his remarks at the James Cameron Memorial Lecture at London’s City University on Sept. 22, Downie gave his view of “the new news” and offered a harsh critique of the Huffington Post. He explained operations like HuffPo operate on the cheap.

“This follows, in a way, the model of national Internet news aggregators like Huffington Post,” Downie said. “They confine their costs to minimal staffing necessary to operate the websites and edit content.”

He maintained that the site co-founded by editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington would take from national and local sources and fill in the holes with content from unpaid bloggers.

The aggregators fill their websites with news, opinion, features, photographs and video that they continuously collect – some would say steal – from other national and local news sites, along with mostly unpaid postings by bloggers who settle for exposure in lieu of money,” he continued.

And this sort of use of media is a parasitical approach to journalism, luring an audience through the use of “titillating” content.

“Though they purport to be a new form of journalism, these aggregators are primarily parasites living off journalism produced by others,” Downie said. “They attract audiences by aggregating journalism about special interests and opinions reflecting a predictable point of view on the left or the right of the political spectrum, along with titillating gossip and sex. Revealing photos of and stories about entertainment celebrities account for much of the highly touted web traffic to the Huffington Post site, for example.”

Even Downie himself, back in 2008 said there would be a time when the print edition of some newspapers wouldn’t exist. But he said local papers would likely survive. But he said that he was unsure how outlets like the Huffington Post would fare going forward.

“It is not yet clear whether many – or any – of the aggregators will become profitable – or, more importantly, whether any of them will become sources of original, credible journalism,” he said.