CJR asked a few writers to give their short takes on the Huffington Post on the occasion of its fifth birthday, and I think Ryan Chittum captured its zeitgeist the best:
Let’s get it out of the way up top that I think The Huffington Post is a mess — a schizophrenic, mostly unreadable hunk of tabloid journalism leavened with serious stuff.
I mean, where else can you read a droning missive on the BP oil spill by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, helpfully identified as “Spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide,” on the same screen as “Lawrence Taylor RAPE Arrest: NFL Legend ARRESTED For Attacking Teenager” and “Elisabeth Hasselbeck SLAMS Erin Andrews’ Clothing, Excuses Stalker”?
Eyeballs JARRED. Reader GOOGLY-EYED After Reading HuffPo.
At the same time, he's also right about this: "But that’s a superficial (if understandable) read these days. In the space I cover, the business press, the site has been doing some serious reporting lately." HuffPo does do a fair amount of very good reporting on business and financial reform issues. It requires a seemingly endless stream of flotsam and jetsam to subsidize all this, but hey — you've got to subsidize it somehow. If you're not the Wall Street Journal, covering this stuff just doesn't pay.
I suppose this kind of tabloidy mashup of salacious trivia with serious reporting might be a model for the future. Not the one we all had in mind when news first started going online, but it wouldn't be the first time the human race was surprised by what ended up working and what didn't.