Ideological Innovation Is Possible!

by Conor Friedersdorf

Jay Rosen offers a characteristically smart interrogation of the AOL / Huffington Post merger:

Is ideological innovation possible in online journalism, and will we see it from this merger?

Well, is it?

No one ever thinks to ask that. Without understanding why, we just assume the answer is no. So the ideological possibilities for the new AOL narrow down to three: lean left… don't lean left or right… lean left but say you're not because it sounds better for a big company. Thus: Will AOL now lean left? (The Wrap, Feb. 7.) Arianna Huffington Will Not Make AOL a Leftie Blog (The Wrap, Feb 8.)

Jeffrey Brown of the Newshour on PBS put it this way when he interviewed Huffington and Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL: "Does AOL risk something to its brand by partnering with Huffington Post, given its  reputation as a liberal, left commentary site?" Armstrong said the Huffington Post is a lot more than that; it's a general news, information and entertainment site.  But Huffington said she wanted to transcend the assumptions in Brown's question.

Here's Ms. Huffington's quote:

It's time for all of us in journalism to move beyond left and right. Truly, it is an obsolete way of looking at the problems America is facing.

What's happening to the middle class, what's happening in our foreign policy in Afghanistan are not easily divided into left-right positions. People have different positions across the political spectrum. All voices have been welcome at The Huffington Post. People ranging from Newt Gingrich to David Frum and Joe Scarborough and Tony Blankley have been blogging on The Huffington Post.

That lineup includes some people whose work I respect a great deal, but it seems a weird bunch of names to rattle off if we're talking about transcending how journalism usually covers politics. Newt Gingrich, David Frum, Joe Scarborough and Tony Blankley have very different ideas about what the future of the Republican Party should be... but I don't know if I'd say they've moved beyond left and right. All would like to be loyal Republican voters.

Okay, back to Jay Rosen, who has some interesting ideas about what actually transcending the status quo might look like:

The new AOL should announce that its dropping the View From Nowhere. When Arianna is asked the "lean left" question she should say that we're not going to impose an artificial neutrality on our editors and their sites, and viewlessness won't be mandatory for writers and contributors because it's not the best way to generate trust. But there won't be a party line or a single dominant perpsective, either. That wouldn't work for AOL or the expanded Huffington Post Media Group. What will work is pluralism, transparency and the View from Somewhere. And there are certain things that are non-negotiable.

His list of non-negotiables: "Accuracy in reporting. Fairness in portraying public controversy. Up-to-date information. No undue influence by advertisers or sponsors. Mutltiple portals for users to interact with and influence our coverage. And a fact-checking form on every piece of content."

I'd read a site like that. And if I might plug my current employer, I'd note that The Atlantic has already adopted this model in many ways. Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Fallows, Megan McArdle, Andrew Sullivan, Jeffrey Goldberg, Clive Crook, Alexis Madrigal, Josh Green: there's no dominant perspective, artificial neutrality isn't imposed, everyone is implicitly or explicitly transparent about their View From Somewhere, and the non-negotiables (aside from the new fangled fact-checking form) are all in place.

It seems to be working out.