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Right Turn
Posted at 03:16 PM ET, 03/11/2011

Arianna wins in a knockout

In the latest installment of self-obsessed journalism (in other words, journalism designed to advance the interests of the publication and/or journalist rather than to convey news or independent analysis), New York Times editor Bill Keller uses his publication to go after the Huffington Post.

He first takes multiple graphs to make sure we all know he’s No. 50 on the Forbes list of the most powerful people in the world. (As the joke goes, “But enough about me -- what about you? Do you know I’m the 50th most powerful person in the world?”)

It really isn’t his fault that he’s such a celebrity:

We have flocks of media oxpeckers who ride the backs of pachyderms, feeding on ticks. We have a coterie of learned analysts -- Clay Shirky, Alan Mutter, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and the rest -- who meditate on the meta of media. By turning news executives into celebrities, we devalue the institutions that support them, the basics of craft and the authority of editorial judgment.

Woe is him, a self-effacing sort of man, especially considering he is the 50th most powerful person in the world. (Did you know?)

He then tears into the Huffington Post:

“Aggregation” can mean smart people sharing their reading lists, plugging one another into the bounty of the information universe. It kind of describes what I do as an editor. But too 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.

And sure enough Arianna Huffington returned fire, using her outlet just as Keller used his to pummel the competition. She catches Keller giving “pomposity” a bad name:

Perhaps unsettled by the fact that, when combined, The Huffington Post and AOL News have over 70 percent more unique visitors than the New York Times, and that HuffPost/AOL News’ combined page views in January 2011 were double the page views of the Times (1.5 billion vs. 750 million), New York Times executive editor Bill Keller decided to unleash an exceptionally misinformed attack on HuffPost in a column released today and slated for this weekend’s NYT Magazine.

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.”

Heh. Then she cries foul over his accusations that she is slumming in the world of journalism:

I wonder what site he’s been looking at. Not ours, as even a casual look at HuffPost will show. 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. . . .

And did he not notice that he lost one of his top business reporters, Peter Goodman, to The Huffington Post -- despite his best efforts to keep him? Indeed, on the very day that Keller’s column began circulating, we published a piece Goodman edited, a 4,000-word investigation of a for-profit college by Goodman’s first hire, Chris Kirkham, a former Washington Post intern. Did he think he came over to aggregate adorable kitten videos? And was he too busy scanning all those lists of “most powerful people” he’s on to notice that he also lost one of his top editors, Tim O’Brien, to us? . . . . But then Keller went much further, accusing me of “aggregating” his very thoughts!

She then does an apt job of debunking his claim that she ripped off his comments by using the word “convergence.”

Remarkable how the 50th most powerful man in the world can be shown up by a mere “aggregator.” In the future, Keller might do well to avoid taking on people sharper than he. Goodness, if he keeps at it, we’ll be reading next year how he’s the 95th most powerful person in the world.

By  |  03:16 PM ET, 03/11/2011

 
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