Dear Huffington Post: It’s time to grow up
"Sick with desire and fastened to a dying animal, it knows not what it is.” - William Butler Yeats
Dear Huffington Post,
You are seven years old now. That is nearly 35 years old in Internet years. Don’t you think it’s about time to grow up? Don’t you think it’s time for a new you?
There was a time, when you were a little baby website back in 2005, when the world needed more blogs. It needed more political blogs, especially on the left, to balance against the mighty Drudge Report.
And as the decade played out, a few other left-leaning websites rose to become the voice of Liberal action. The DailyKos was one example of a website that put its political leaning ahead of any sort of "mass appeal," which is why it has never really gone mainstream or accelerated in traffic. That was their decision, and they have nothing to regret.
But, you, Huffington Post, wanted to be the popular kid. And that meant that you needed to broaden your coverage to include new topics — like sports — and to balance your ideology to include more Americans in the political mainstream. You achieved the former.
But to this very day — and at a time when America needs even-handed and reasonable dialogue more than ever — you have to act like a child and fuel the fire of political gridlock. You are a highly partisan website. This will not appeal to the mainstream, nor will it make advertisers love you.
I read many publications on New Year’s Eve, to see how various sites were covering the Biden-McConnell bipartisan compromise, and the only one that was screaming like a baby was you, Huffington Post.
Politico and Business Insider -- yes, Business Insider!-- offered thoughtful/up-to-the-minute unbiased reporting. PolicyMic, an up-and-coming publication aimed at young voters, went out of its way to offer multiple perspectives. Even the mainstream media was more concerned with a deal getting done — heck, even the curmudgeonly CNBC wanted to see a deal happen regardless of who "won" or "lost."
But Huffington Post ran a headline bemoaning how the Democrats had lost leverage on squeezing more tax revenue out of Republicans. It then linked to a handful of highly partisan Liberals who blasted the president and accused him of being a huge pussy. It published lead stories like this and prominently linked to stories like this. After the House passed the bill, this story appeared prominently above the fold — written by a Columbia professor who represents the left-most one percent.
My theory on the Huffington Post has always been this: It is an incredible company that is held down only by its reputation for being too partisan/Liberal, as pushed by Arianna Huffington. Everyone knows that advertisers shy away from political magazines, lest they alienate their customers. I can only imagine that AOL’s sales guys are moaning and groaning over how little the Huffington Post editorial team has managed to curtail their childish shrieking.
Highly controversial political rags are one of the last places a major brand wants to appear. Only pornography occupies a lower spot on the totem pole. FoxNews may have great ratings, but look at how crappy its advertisers are (“Buy Gold now!”).
So I doubt that the "business guys" over at AOL are mandating that the Huffington Post continue to publish ultra-extremist viewpoints.
As an Independent voter who has recently leaned Democrat — in large part due to my distaste for the Tea Party — the last thing that I want to read is a bunch of people who occupy the extreme left bitch about the president before he even takes his second oath.
But, some people will say, hasn’t Arianna enjoyed great success by driving the Huffington Post into a leadership position amongst Liberal publications? Won’t she "lose her base" if she changes the voice of the site?
No, that’s ridiculous.
A cursory glance at Comscore demographic data will show you that Huffington Post readers are not Liberals to begin with. What do Liberals look like? More so than the population at large, they are: Women, Young, Minority, West Coast-ers.
But, guess what? According to Comscore, the typical Huffington Post reader is Male, Elderly, White, and doesn’t live on the West Coast.
What this tells me is that a bunch of readers — probably about 20 million of them — are duplicates from AOL.com, who link to the Huffington Post almost exclusively. The balance are probably everyday people who use Google and end up on the site. There probably is a small contingent of direct/loyal visitors who love the ultra-Liberal angel, but I’ll bet that they could get a lot more readers if they didn’t piss off most of America.
And when I read their coverage of the Fiscal Cliff negotiations, it just pissed me off. And I’m a Moderate who, more than anything, wants this country to get its act together. This compromise was a small step in the right direction. The Dow Jones went up 500 points in two days. That wasn’t a coincidence. Markets talk.
And when I see extremists on both sides of the spectrum complaining about it, that is when I know that it was a successful compromise. I just don’t expect the Huffington Post to be one of those extremists. Because it is no longer the year 2006. And the Huffington Post is no longer the “Liberal Drudge Report.”
Indeed, as Sarah wrote in her breakdown of why the founders wanted to sell, co-founder Jonah Peretti had long since tired of that mission, and CEO Eric Hippeau was never into it. The biggest problem that drove Huffington Post to sell was that the site "was growing up" and the co-founders and principles all wanted that to go in different directions, Peretti said.
The property is too valuable and too advanced in its audience and content strategy to still be lingering in some 1960s socialist utopia.
Bleacher Report owes a great deal to the Huffington Post’s success, and their sale to AOL was a wonderful example for us to follow. I have had the pleasure to meet many people who built the Huffington Post, and every single one of them impressed the hell out of me. This is a publication that I want to support.
But I think that there may be some internal confusion at AOL as to what the Huffington Post was, is, and can be.
It may think it knows its own identity. But it doesn’t.