Is Journalism Dead?

Media pioneer Arianna Huffington doesn’t think so.

By Melanie Breault ’11

If you want to argue that journalism is dying and that online media is inaccurate and biased compared to the mainstream media, Arianna Huffington is not the person to talk to.

“There are so many obituaries for journalism and not enough biopsies,” argues Huffington, cofounder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, a progressive news and blog website. “Journalism can not only be saved, but it can be strengthened. We are entering a golden age for news consumers.”

Huffington is the fourteenth lecturer in the Park Distinguished Visitor Series, sponsored by the Park Foundation and presented by the College, the Roy H. Park School of Communications, and the Park Center for Independent Media (PCIM). Park School dean Diane Gayeski and PCIM director Jeff Cohen introduced Huffington November 3 in Emerson Suites, where she discussed the changing media landscape.

Gayeski opened the lecture with a question many prospective students and parents asked her earlier this year: Is there a future in journalism? Probing a little further, Cohen, who is also an associate professor of journalism, asked the audience whether or not they read the Washington Post online daily; very few hands were raised. When he asked if they go to the Huffington Post daily, almost all the hands were raised.

“The mainstream media is trying to commit suicide,” Cohen explains, citing that mainstream media fires young, engaging journalists who go straight from unemployment into Huffington’s open arms.

Huffington started the news and blog site in May 2005, and in less than five years, it has become one of the most widely read and linked to online media outlets in the country.

“I don’t think the future of journalism is at risk of disappearing,” says Holly Smith ’10, a hopeful entertainment journalist. “I think journalism is omnipresent. As soon-to-be-graduates, we are being pushed into a business that is struggling, but we have to look for opportunities in places other than the mainstream media.”

Huffington explained how the various components of the Huffington Post — its 24-hour news cycle, its more than 3,000 bloggers, and its sense of community — have created a platform for important conversations.

“Facts are sacred, but that doesn’t mean there are facts [reported] for every side of a story,” she says, referring to how some news stories will give both sides of an argument even if one side isn’t accurate. She argues that the mainstream media is often influenced by politicians and CEOs, making the need for critical, investigative journalism greater now more than ever. “A good journalist pursues the truth rather than some phony idea of balance,” she asserts.

Propelled by that philosophy, the Huffington Post has become a driving force behind a transition from old mainstream media to new online media.

“How can so many journalists miss the two biggest stories of our time?” she asks, referencing how the mainstream media over-reported the War in Iraq and the economic crisis but failed to discuss what she calls the “real issues” such as the approximate $12-billion-per-month cost of the Iraq War and the unchallengeable language of the $700 billion bailout. She says her team pays close attention to these details: “While mainstream media suffers from attention deficit disorder, we online suffer from the opposite disorder, obsessive-compulsive.”

Huffington’s popular “Internet newspaper” earned her a spot on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people and the position of “media person of the year” in 2008 by I Want Media website.

With 12 books under her belt, covering topics from women in politics and the media to corporate greed and political corruption, Huffington believes that “journalists can give a voice to the voiceless,” and in so doing, “look in the mirror and discover leadership.”