If New York Times editor Bill Keller was a woman, conservatives would be calling the battle he's having with Arianna Huffington a liberal cat fight.
Given his possession of a Y-chromosome, those on the right have to settle watching two left-wing media tycoons squabble over which is the bigger hypocrite:
Some once-serious news outlets give pride of place not to stories they think important but to stories that are “trending” on Twitter — the “American Idol”-ization of news. And we have bestowed our highest honor — market valuation — not on those who labor over the making of original journalism but on aggregation.
“Aggregation” can mean smart people sharing their reading lists, plugging one another into the bounty of the information universe...[T]oo often it amounts to taking words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material. In Somalia this would be called piracy. In the mediasphere, it is a respected business model.
The queen of aggregation is, of course, Arianna Huffington, who has discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come. 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.
Last month, when AOL bought The Huffington Post for $315 million, it was portrayed as a sign that AOL is moving into the business of creating stuff — what we used to call writing or reporting or journalism but we now call “content.” Buying an aggregator and calling it a content play is a little like a company’s announcing plans to improve its cash position by hiring a counterfeiter...I can’t decide whether serious journalism is the kind of thing that lures an audience to a site like The Huffington Post, or if that’s like hiring a top chef to fancy up the menu at Hooters.
So wrote Keller in a piece to be published in the New York Times Magazine Sunday, but was made available on the internet Thursday.
As the kids like to say, "That's gonna leave a mark!"
Not surprisingly, Huffington quickly responded:
After opening his piece by patting himself on the back so hard I'd be surprised if he didn't crack a rib (it seems everyone -- even Woody Allen and those folks on Twitter -- thinks he's super "powerful" and "influential"!), Keller turned to the putative subject of his column: "the 'American Idol'-ization of news" and the evils of "aggregation." Hearkening back to the glory years when Rupert Murdoch and his minions labeled sites that aggregate the news "parasites," "content kleptomaniacs," "vampires," and "tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet" (the news industry equivalent of "your mama wears army boots!" although, not quite as persuasive), Keller says of aggregation: "In Somalia this would be called piracy. In the mediasphere, it is a respected business model."
Despite her foe not being a woman, Arianna's claws were certainly out, for equating a liberal with Rupert Murdoch is akin to calling Derek Jeter a Red Sock!
Funnier still, having mocked Keller for patting himself on the back, Huffington went so far to congratulate herself that she dislocated both shoulders:
Even before we merged with AOL, HuffPost had 148 full-time editors, writers, and reporters engaged in the serious, old-fashioned work of traditional journalism. As long ago as 2009, Frank Rich praised the work of our reporters in his column. Paul Krugman more recently singled out the work of our lead finance writer. Columbia Journalism Review has credited our work for advancing the public's understanding of the national foreclosure crisis, and a pair of our Washington reporters recently received a major journalism prize. Matthew Yglesias, Felix Salmon, Catherine Rampell, are among the many others who have cited the work of our reporters.
Numerous unnamed sources tell me Huffington will soon be visiting famed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews to discuss reattaching her arms after that shameless act of self-congratulation.
So who won round one?
The reality is that no matter how much you might despise the New York Times, folks on both sides of the aisle have criticized Huffington's predatory aggregation and the way her website uses search optimization to bring attention to articles its writers didn't create.
Just last week, the liberal New Republic asked, "Is the Huffington Post ruining journalism?" A week before that, University of Virginia media professor Siva Vaidhyanathan told CNN's Howard Kurtz the Huffington Post is a bigger threat to journalism than Google.
Speaking of Google, two days prior it changed an algorithm at its website to address the search optimization that outlets like HuffPo exploit to bring in traffic for unoriginal content.
Add it all up, and Huffington has made a lot of enemies in the media world the last few years despite most on the far-left adoring her - except of course Keller.
This means readers should keep the popcorn within reach because this fight is likely far from over.
Isn't it grand?