HuffPost Isn’t All That New Media

The New York Times called last night’s presser a “bookend moment,” with veteran reporter Helen “I’ve Asked Questions of *10* Presidents” Thomas on one side, and the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein on the other:

President Obama on Monday evening became the 10th American president to call on Helen Thomas at a White House news conference. And he was the first to call on Sam Stein, a reporter for The Huffington Post, whose Internet publication sprung to life during Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

…It was not the answer but the very fact that he took a question from Mr. Stein that created a buzz and signaled yet another shift in the ever-evolving news media landscape.

The White House decided in advance which reporters would be selected. And on Monday night, correspondents for The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Time and Newsweek were not on the list.

While it’s obvious that taking a question from the Internet-based outlet Huffington Post holds some significance for the both the field of journalism as well as “new media,” I think there’s actually less significance if you look just below the surface. Primarily because, as I’ve heard Arianna Huffington remark more than once, the HuffPost is an “internet-based newspaper,” and not necessarily a model for participatory journalism.

I would contrast HuffPost to a site like Daily Kos, for example. The former is more like a corporation to the Daily Kos’s small business. In terms of the notion of participatory media, Huffiington Post is nothing like dkos: It’s a top-down entity. Editors determine which stories appear on the front page, unlike the Recommended List on Daily Kos. User can only contribute comments, which, considering that the online versions of most newspapers and magazines also allow comments, is hardly revolutionary these days. Even HuffPost’s “Off The Bus” site, which promotes citizen journalism, isn’t the same as allowing anyone and everyone to write diaries on a blog.

Again, this is not to say there is a shift happening — there is. Sites like HuffPost and TPM have a low-cost, Internet-based journalism model that works. They both are delivering news and opinion, and, in the case of TPM, is also doing some very good investigative journalism. They are proving they can compete against the “old media” establishment. But these are shifts solely in the economics of creating and delivering journalism, and they say little about the kind of connected participation and “hyperpolitics” the net is enabling.

Perhaps the biggest sign that nothing much has changed was pointed out by both  Brian Beutler and Ezra Klein today — Obama dodged the questions from both Helen Thomas and Sam Stein!

So this was a positive step, and any shaking up of the corporate news media is welcome, indeed. But we shouldn’t pretend that new media has triumphed over old here, because it hasn’t.

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