But Will HuffPo Play in Peoria?

The anti-Capra.

The news that AOL has bought Huffington Post for $315 million is zorching around the infosphere at warp speed.  Team HuffPo is to assume editorial supervision of AOL’s news and opinion content, and like Ed and others on the right, I’m skeptical.  I think AOL has just laid another egg.

HuffPo certainly comes to the job with a well-known bias.  No one expects “balanced” analysis or commentary at the flagship website.  As Drudge and Townhall and Hot Air are known to be right-wing, HuffPo is known to be left.  And HuffPo isn’t left in the way, say, Slate or The Atlantic’s online site is, with a certain circumspection and mellow human maturity.  It’s the kind of site a lot of its readership will age out of, because of its essential humorlessness, its unrelenting adhan to indignation, and its chronic lack of perspective.  It looks precisely as partisan and cranky to the right as Rush Limbaugh’s website looks to the left.

I agree with Ed’s suggestion that overlaying the HuffPo sensibility on AOL content will send subscribers scurrying for the competition.  When it comes to packaging national and global news for a general audience – an audience that exists not because of the news content but because of the Internet service – think USA Today and the network morning shows.  Think bland, treacly, top-40-ish: think the things HuffPo is not.

Media Research Center’s Tim Graham assembled this report on HuffPo’s history of immature, shock-value snark.  But beyond that general pattern, HuffPo has an eye-opening penchant for anti-Israel bias and a bizarre tolerance for unmitigated hatred of Jews from its reader-commenters.  To see just how unmitigated the hatred is, visit the compendium of examples in this report by Huff Watch from February 2010 (scroll down for the full effect, and be warned about the language).  I can’t reproduce the comments here, nor would you want me to.  But they were moderated – reviewed and accepted for posting on the site – by HuffPo.

An editorial perspective that accepts such vile postings, while kicking dissenting voices off the site (as many a Hot Air commenter has experienced), is not organized to be successful in brokering news and opinion for Middle America.  It’s somewhat odd that AOL wanted to establish so close a connection to it – but, as Tom Blumer observes at Pajamas today, AOL’s track record was spotty to begin with.

There’s another interesting aspect of the AOL purchase, laid out by blogger Yid with Lid.  One of the AOL properties of which HuffPo will have editorial supervision is Patch.com, where interested bloggers contribute to local community websites.  The Yid (Jeff Dunetz) points out that Arianna Huffington has already targeted Patch.com, with its promise of a narrow but deep local focus, as a means of affecting the 2012 election.

This is a superb point and something that bears close watching.  My own opinion, after visiting a number of the existing Patch.com sites, is that Patch.com may well be the shoals on which HuffPo founders.  There’s charm and interest in the Patch.com sites today, the kind that come from general appeal and an upbeat vibe coupled with local photos and local names.  People write about the best places to go for day hikes; they post pictures of beloved dead trees and of rescue cats needing good homes.  If something weird happens at a school, they provide ungrammatical on-site reports with amateur photos of parents standing around across the street, waiting for school authorities to tell them something.  The local advertising is sweetly primitive:  “Christian handyman, reasonable rates, call Phil.” “Animal Chiropractor.  Anything with a spine!”  “Suzy’s handmade quilts. Thursdays 10-2.” “Model airplane club meets at the bandstand 2nd Sat each month. 8 AM. Come fly with us.”

By some lights an Onion satire waiting to happen, Patch.com can’t be HuffPo-ized.  People don’t want a general-interest community website with the HuffPo vibe.  No matter who or where you are, the angry, crazy people are somewhere else – they’re not you.  That’s not your life, that’s politics and world news, and your back yard is a whole separate thing, a place where you’re happy and you want more reasons to be.

Patch.com, the idea, is a sound concept, but I don’t think HuffPo can run it successfully.  Non-combative kindliness, generosity of spirit, tolerance, sympathy and sentiment – these things can’t be simulated or tactically deployed.  People will recognize it immediately if they’re not genuine.  They’ll detect the unflattering, top-lit twilight descending over “community news” presented in a systematically biased manner – and they’ll give up on the websites.

Some things don’t translate.  HuffPo’s audience is self-selecting and happy with the product.  But the editorial energumen won’t play in Peoria.

Update: Yid with Lid has an update today on Arianna Huffington’s intentions with Patch.com, which she characterizes as “Jeffersonian.”  He mentions that a regular columnist for AOL’s Politics Daily is leaving, basically to avoid the left-wing editorial bias of the new management.

For visitors to the Huff Watch website, I also recommend viewing the introductory summary for the 2010 report linked above, which is a good read with some additional, conveniently placed links.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.

14 thoughts on “But Will HuffPo Play in Peoria?”

  1. I’m too lazy to research the situation; but I suspect former Time Warner people now run AOL. Generally it takes immersion in the culture of a stilted mega corporation to breed the acquisition mentality that pays whatever it takes to buy seeming growth. People who grow small corporations like AOL was when Steve Case saw Time Warner coming and let his company be bought (in effect) for tens of billions at the very peak of the internet bubble, do not do things like the Huffpo acquisition.

    They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Stay edgy far left and make AOL that way, and people like me will eventually migrate off the platform since we’re only hanging on to avoid the hassle of switching. Let AOL continue being only somewhat left of center, and their core audience of lefties won’t migrate to it.

    Smart Ariana Huffington, dumb AOL execs.

  2. “An editorial perspective that accepts such vile postings, while kicking dissenting voices off the site (as many a Hot Air commenter has experienced), is not organized to be successful in brokering news and opinion for Middle America.”

    I don’t believe AOL and HuffPo are thinking in terms of “brokering” anything. Instead, I suspect that, as the focus on Patch.com shows, they’re planning on orchestrating things. Whether that effort works is another question. If HuffPo can control the headlines and links on AOL’s sign-up page, that’s an awful lot of ideological leverage over people who seldom read beyond the headlines.

    I hope this effort fails, but I’m not in an optimistic mood today.

  3. “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

    If FOX News can make money, opticon, why not this?

    1. Fox is unapologetically conservative and does not compete with anyone on television for the conservative viewer.

      Huffpo of late devotes an ever larger share of its pages to entertainment, celeb photos and undisguised gossip. I think thats the direction they will go once they get running with AOL. They barely touch on news anymore anyway. Most of the editorials are of the celebrity-with-something-to-say-variety. Which comes down to your Mencken intro: The number of people who want to know Russell Simmons thoughts on missle defense is pretty reliable. It’ll be like a dorm room with Bob Marley posters and bong smoke and chicks who hate their dad.

      1. “It’ll be like a dorm room with Bob Marley posters and bong smoke and chicks who hate their dad.”

        that could well explain why the opticon doesn’t like or understand that it’s as likely to draw attention as Bristol Palin dancing on tv.

  4. Much as it pains me to say this, but Fuster’s got this one right.

    HuffPo is the DrudgeReport of the Left. It will flourish in the same sense that AOL flourishes: through inertia and the same human fraility that makes us stare at auto accidents and at the disabled.

    Is $315 million a lot of money? Not really — it’s just a fraction of the gross annual sales of bubble gum in the US.

  5. Well, since my aol service is free, I won’t be running away quite yet, but will be interested to see how this REALLY pans out. I do click on a handful of the headlines every day, but view their whole news setup as a sort of USA Today of the Internet; although I never read USA Today – even scanning headlines in the grocery checkout line is reserved for the NYT and the LA Times. USA Today has always been a jumble to me and not (IMO) very user friendly – and, worse, boring. If far Left crap jumps out at me now on aol, I’ll just get to my emails faster and not waste time with ANY headlines. There’s always a “bright side…”

    BTW, I never stop marvelling at Arianna’s total lobotomy after her ex-husand, Michael, lost his bid to be a Senator from CA. He was scheduled to speak to a group of GOP supporters (lunch at an upscale restaurant in Palm Springs) during his hectic campaign schedule, but at the last minute had a scheduling conflict and sent his wife in his stead. Well, that woman was absolutely DYNAMIC – I kid you not! She channelled Goldwater & Reagan with conviction and earned a well-deserved standing O afterwards! Who whudda thunk that she could do such a 180 and end up the darling of the Looney Left! Truth IS stranger than fiction…

    1. One could also speculate that she channelled Lady Hamilton, Eva Peron and Clara Petacci also at times, but that would be unworthy of polite mention.

  6. What are you trying to suggest Sully, btw, the Huff Po, is much worse than Drudge, something Breitbart is doing some penance for setting up. It is a netroots portal with few exceptions, like Yoani Sanchez and possibly Bertrand Henri Levi, (although the
    word is out, on how useless he has become)

    1. My comment went soley to Ms Huffington’s state of mind and talents, Miguel. From my limited cruising of it I agree that Huffpo is much further left, even to the extent of being loony than most sites that get significant traffic. As it happens I also don’t like reflexively rightwing sites either; but I’ve rarely seen comment strings anywhere that are as depressingly mindless as those I’ve seen on Huffpo.

  7. It’s a side issue to this piece, but I think that it’s quite a stretch to characterize any website that runs the blitherings of Andrew Sullivan as showing “a certain circumspection and mellow human maturity”.

  8. Andrew Sullivan became a bit deranged after Bush was elected and all words with the letters S, A, R, H, P, L I or N in them have the potential to send him into a frothing fit; but he still occasionaly writes reasonable stuff.

  9. I am going to watch and see what happens – but if it is too in your face it isn’t all that difficult to change an email. My guess is that most people will ignore it. I see more gmail accounts anymore anyway.

  10. Interestingly, today was the first time I noticed a local news story on the front page of AOL when I went to log on. Is it that there is literally never any news around here, or is it that Patch is really starting to get its technical act together?

    My brother mentioned that lately he’s been seeing occasional local stories on his home page. He didn’t say home page, he said google; but he’s even more technically limited than me, so who can tell where he is actually seeing stuff.

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