Huffington and Greenhouse discuss rise of Web journalism

New media met old media at a Jonathan Edwards College Master’s Tea on Wednesday afternoon.

In front of an audience of 40, political news Web site founder Arianna Huffington and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Linda Greenhouse LAW ’78 agreed that while traditional forms of journalism may be faltering, nontraditional outlets like the Internet hold great potential for aspiring journalists and amateur bloggers. What may be in order, they concluded, is a “hybridization” that combines the established techniques of newspaper reporters with new ways of communicating information.

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, discusses the future of media at a joint Master’s Tea with Linda Greenhouse LAW ’78.
Eric Anderson
Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, discusses the future of media at a joint Master’s Tea with Linda Greenhouse LAW ’78.

Greenhouse began the talk by recounting one of her average days at The New York Times, where she covered 29 Supreme Court sessions from 1978 to 2008. Usually working from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., she typed her story assignments on a manual typewriter and gave them to editors on carbon-copy paper, at least in the early years of her tenure.

“What I’m describing is a dinosaur of a news operation,” Greenhouse said. “Even describing it makes me feel like I’m coming out of the dark ages.”

Greenhouse said she left the Times in part because she was asked to do additional, online-only reporting. The changing “news appetite” for immediacy, she explained, did not fit her personal approach to journalism.

Two of the greatest problems plaguing contemporary reporting, Greenhouse argued, are the mainstream media’s tendency to shy away from controversial issues and to let outrageous acts or statements go unquestioned.

“I think the times we’re in require us to go beyond that, to do the job we’re supposed to do, which is to serve the reader,” Greenhouse said.

Huffington, who runs the liberal-leaning Web site The Huffington Post, identified the rise of the “citizen journalist” as an exciting recent development in news media. She cited Mayhill Fowler — a sexagenarian amateur Web reporter who broke the story of then–presidential candidate Barack Obama’s remark about “bitter” small-town Americans who “cling to guns or religion” — as one of the most prominent examples of the trend.

“Anybody who has a camera or an iPhone can be a reporter,” Huffington said. “That is invaluable. That is real-time reporting.”

But Huffington cautioned that contests among media Web sites and amateur journalists to report news events first can lead to a situation where “energy and competitive juices trump accuracy.”

The two women agreed that a combination of new and old media outlets — perhaps in the form of news aggregation Web sites such as The Huffington Post — might be necessary in the face of economic recession and declining advertising sales.

“I hope, as we move forward, that there will always be a place for the journalism that you did,” Huffington told Greenhouse.

Huffington noted that her Web site has grown to resemble traditional media outlets over time: At least 30 percent of the Huffington Post’s daily content is original, and the site plans to establish a fund to cover the travel and research costs of freelance investigative journalists.

At the same time, she said, issues of fair use and libel are only two of the questions facing online media.

“In a way we are still working out the rules of the road,” Huffington said.

The talk was well-received by the Tea’s attendees, several of whom praised Greenhouse’s and Huffington’s thoughtful consideration of the state of contemporary journalism.

“It was clear that they were both knowledgeable and passionate about these issues,” Lukas Colberg ’12 said. “I thought that their praise for media like the Internet was good advice for future reporters.”

Greenhouse is the Knight distinguished journalist in residence and Joseph Goldstein senior fellow at Yale Law School.

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