Arianna Huffington, The New News, And The Old Ecosystem

As you may have heard by now, last week Arianna Huffington said the Huffington Post will begin publishing local news Web sites, starting in Chicago. The new venture will unsurprisingly borrow from her site’s current approach: using technology (as opposed to people) to pull in a locally-themed news feed, and have a few editors and reporters flesh out the offerings.

Coincidentally, my most recent column is about news aggregator Daylife, which provides the newsfeeds for the Huffington Post and a bunch of other Web sites. (I assume Daylife’s the logical partner to run the newsfeeds for the local sites as well, although I’m told that hasn’t been hammered out yet.)

I like the idea of Daylife’s newsfeeds. I like the idea of tightly-targeted news sites being created from a Daylife-esque aggregation and a sharp editor or two. (If I actually cared about cats, I’d probably be interested in the Daylife-powered pet news and video site that Purina recently put up.)

I’m less sold that I want a broader news site—and while it’s “local,” a news site about Chicago is pretty damn broad—in which aggregation drives the experience. I’ve frankly found the news aspect of the Huffington Post to be . . . not particularly compelling. I still like broad newsfeeds when they come from a coherent source with a coherent approach. (e.g.: what you find on the Web sites of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, since both produce the vast majority of what you find there). If I want aggregation, I want an identifiable and singular idiosyncrasy on it, like Drudge Report and its multiple obsessesions--weather, crazy people sharing a house with dozens of cats and their accumulated filth, etc. (I’m old. I know.)

So, yes, here I was thinking I had this nuanced and subtle point to make and it turns out I am making the argument for the power of Editing all over again. I’m sorry to find myself doing so, but, as the man said in Superbad, it’s just the way I feel.

I am sure the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times are just thrilled that another competitor is coming along: hey, Cement Shoes, come here and let me loop a few lead weights around you. But something has to replace the dying American big-city newspaper, and Huffington’s sites are one way to solve that problem.

I’m not sold that we will want an online news ecosystem driven by aggregation, even smart aggregation, and a little bit of extra editorial manpower and oomph on top.

Caveats/Counterpoints: Some Google folk made some good points regarding how the fully automated Google News enlightens via juxtaposition in yesterday’s New York Times. And Daylife founder Upendra Shardanand made a pretty wise comment when I brought up my news ecosystem concerns, saying that the Web should host many different kinds of news experiences and Daylife style aggregation should just be one of them. Daylife also does a whole lot more with news than its newsfeeds, as even a casual spin through its site evidences.

Ultimately, though, finicky individual opinions (I like this, but not this) are not going to matter much. I mean, given the way the economics are going these days, it’s not like we’re necessarily going to get to choose what kind of news business will ultimately thrive financially online.