Arianna’s gambit on reinventing journalism

Trying to keep things forward- moving and thinking here on this blog as I’ve got some freelance deadlines to meet (yes, it does feel good to have them again!):

• Arianna Huffington is taking bigger steps in her entrepreneurial journalistic life as her Huffington Post venture announced it’s raised $25 million (you read that right) in part for an expansion of original content. Some of the money will be used to fund more investigative journalism as well as “a rollout of local versions of the HuffPo aimed at an unspecified number of cities.” Chicago was the first local site, and like the main site it contains mostly aggregated material.

ff_raves_huffington1_fNothing wrong with that, but there are a lot of journalists willing and ready to try something like this (myself included) if it can provide something of a living, and if the kind of work Huffington has in mind is more than the “point of view” journalism that her site has demonstrated thus far in its three-year existence.

In touting her forthcoming book on blogging, Huffington’s bullish on the notion that the old and new media “are good for each other,” but it’s clear where she sees that energy being harbored:

“The vast majority of mainstream journalists head in the direction the assignment desk points them. In contrast, bloggers are armed with a far more effective piece of access than a White House press credential: passion.’ ”

It’s hard to disagree with that: Her site is full of the vibrancy that I wish more traditional news sites would feel free to include (outside of celebrity news). Reading the HuffPost is a romp, and it reflects its proprietor’s personality. I love her audacity, her refreshing honesty, and her caution to the wind approach to not just the news, but to life. And I would imagine this new flux of cash will be used to attract plenty eyeballs for HuffPost in the wake of a dizzying presidential campaign. You don’t do that by sitting on the fence. Not with $25 million in hand.

Still, a bigger question looms: Where’s the kind of news gathering and reporting that doesn’t have a partisan or ideological edge going to find its Daddy Warbucks? Outside of the Knight Foundation, that is? Clearly Huffington has a burgeoning business model that is attractive to venture capitalists in ways that newspaper companies are not. (Some think even her setup is in for a big fall after the elections and she’ll have to cut costs, i.e., journalists. But this was written before the money came through.)

I want to let go of the needless restraints that I’ve long felt have choked journalistic innovation, what I call the “Neutered News Syndrome.” But neither do I want to become an effusive advocate for a cause, for a political philosophy, for a point of view that goes beyond the charge simply to inform and serve the public interest.

Someday I may give up the ghost and let it rip. I’ve done that to some degree in the past. Just doing this blog is an example of that. But I’m still working out how to blend my passion and professionalism without going over the top. Call me bland and boring, but that’s just where I am right now.

• Freelance writer and journalist Jen Miller talks about how blogging has helped her get more business, diversify her talents and led to a book contract. The key: Hone in on a niche, and work it. (Hers is the Jersey shore, of all things.) Really, really work it, and don’t get too expansive:

“I only tell people to blog if they have something to say. I could probably have a general interest ‘Hey, here’s Jen’s blog!’ type thing, but I didn’t see anything unique about that. I put some personal stuff into my shore blog, and that’s OK because of the title ‘Down the Shore with Jen.’ But a general interest blog? I’m not sure it would find as big an audience.”

She also has time to read a book a week — don’t skimp on books for pleasure — by getting rid of cable TV.

(My not-so-guilty pleasure right now — Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar the Clown.” Wish I could say I’ll read it in a week, but I just can’t seem to cut the cable cord. Basketball season just started — occupational hazard!)


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