Is the Huffington Post Killing the New York Times and the Washington Post?


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Isaac Chotiner's 6000-word TNR takedown of the collected works of Arianna Huffington came out last week, but, late as always, I didn't get around to reading it till over the weekend. It's packed to the gills with good stuff. That said, I don't think I can sign on to Isaac's most pointed paragraph:

The truth is that The Huffington Post is not just supplementing a print media that has long been dominated by newspapers. It is also helping to destroy newspapers. The trials of print media have been explored at length recently in a number of settings, both print and digital, and for good reason. But some tough questions must be asked also about the powerful digital interlopers. For the blogosphere and the news aggregators that dominate cyberspace are completely reliant--completely parasitic--on the very institutions they are driving to bankruptcy. [The Huffington Post] is thoroughly dependent on the reporting that Huffington has spent three decades bashing. Fire up the site on your computer some evening, and see how many of its main stories are from The New York Times or The Washington Post.

I wouldn't go so far as to say HuffPo is "completely parasitic" on the big newspapers (the Huffington Post employs plenty of full-time journalists and as far as I know is looking for more), but the bigger question here is: Why should we assume that the Huffington Post's reliance/dependence/symbiosis/parasitism (take your pick) is what's destroying newspapers?

My sense from friends at the Times and Post is that they're thrilled whenever Huffington Post links to a story. (The publisher of the Washington Post, Katharine Weymouth, admitted as much two weeks ago: "I think Arianna has built an amazing site and drives a lot of traffic to us, so thank you!") And if you compare the traffic of, say, the New York Times to that of the Huffington Post, the story is one of the two rising and falling together -- not the meteoric rise of HuffPo and the stagnation and decline of the Times.

With the exception of March and April of this year (did anything change?), each month in which the Times traffic (unique readers) rises is one in which the Huffington Post's traffic rises. And each month in which the Times' traffic falls or stays flat is a month in the which Huffington's traffic rises or stays flat:

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I'll cheerfully admit this doesn't prove much, largely because we can't know what the counterfactual universe in which the Huffington Post never existed would look like. (Short of imaging a scenario along the lines of the Terminator movies.) But the broader point is that competition for newspaper readership isn't a zero-sum game: It's not like there's a fixed quantity of eyeballs, and each pair that turns to the Huffington Post means one less for the New York Times.

Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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