When I check the news in the morning, I cycle through a selection of websites to see what’s going on. I like to check my Twitter feed, because I follow a wide variety of news outlets, as well as entertainments sites, celebrities, and politicians, so there is a lot of content to choose from. After laughing at a few random animal photos — which I still declare to be the single best use of the Internet ever — I saw a Tweet that caught my attention:
My husband is an airplane enthusiast so I thought he would find this of interest. He can identify the make and model of a plane from our apartment taking off from Geneva International Airport, which is just over 3 kilometers away. We also LOVE the National Geographic series Air Crash Investigation (it is called Mayday: Air Disasters in the United States). We have every episode on video.
I’ve learned a lot from the series, such as:
- you have a greater chance of surviving a crash if you sit in the back of the plane
- know where your emergency exits are and LISTEN to the emergency instructions given at the beginning of the flight
- in the event of a crash, run, don’t wait, to get out of the plane, even if you have to climb over the seats to get to an exit
Anyway, I saw the tweet, clicked on it, and read the corresponding article headline to my husband: Passenger Reportedly Falls From Plane Near Miami. He listened quietly without comment as I read him the short article. There was not much information.
Then, on HuffPost’s right column list of Most Popular articles, I noticed another headline and read the title aloud: Girl, 17, Learns She Was Born Without a Vagina.
Finally, my captive audience spoke, “What news site are you reading?”
Yeah, the Huffington Post. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it.
The HuffPost does not have a mission statement clearly published on its site, and the About Us page is just a list of the editorial staff. Its metadata describes it as “The destination for news, blogs and original content offering coverage of US politics, entertainment, style, world news, technology and comedy.” It is described as a news aggregator, and sometimes a blog since it offers original content. The HuffPost does have an impressive list of contributors: just today Robert Reich, John Kerry, and Marlo Thomas have featured blog posts. It has a mammoth amount of content, and the site’s architecture must be one of the most sophisticated I’ve come across with its secondary and tertiary sections, regional and international editions, all cross-referencing appropriate content.
There a few things I have always found suspect about the HuffPost. The HuffPost seems to have less depth of information than its wide selection of sections would suggest: the large number of sections does not necessarily mean there is really so much significant specialized content. As I have worked in website development for more than 15 years I would posit that it is the result of two things: the first is using section headings to help with search engine optimization (SEO), and the second is pure laziness to properly categorize content into the most relevant section heading. I have no problem with the former, it’s part of the business of publishing on the Internet. The latter, however, as a reader, I find to be excruciatingly annoying. What exactly do I mean by this? It’s just that you tend to find the same articles repeated under the different sub-sections. Don’t waste my time by letting me think I can get more content in another section, when it is actually just the same content.
Their articles are also terribly superficial. This, I suspect, is a result of the constant demand for a new headline and the so-called ‘24/7 news cycle’ that is blamed for all the sub-par news content on any media. Fair enough. What rubs me the wrong way on HuffPost though, is that they re-purpose the same content, over-and-over again, under new headlines. Their headlines are quite tabloid-style, and I don’t use tabloid in its traditional definition of paper layout, but rather the more familiar sense of journalism that focuses on the sensational.
I also have a problem with the business model of Huffington Post, specifically that it does not pay writers to contribute. I know that their argument is that the writer receives compensation by having their work published in the first place. This is a bit of a circular argument, no? Writers are desperate to be published, but this does not justify their exploitation. I am strongly against the increasing trend of slave wages for the work of writers; a writer should be paid a fair wage for the value of their work, just like any other job. As we see the quality of published work consistently diminishing, one need look no further than the example set by industry leaders like the Huffington Post that have established that it is a talent not worth paying for.
Still, I do browse its headlines everyday on Twitter. It’s an easy and accessible source of information on wide-ranging subject matter. Anything of substance that I read there, I likely follow up on from a more reputable news source, but it’s a great starting point. I don’t really like to admit that I get a lot of my news information from the HuffPost, just like I don’t like to admit that I read People or watch the Kardashians. But I do.