The New York Times in its Sunday Magazine this week ran excerpts from an interview it held with Arianna Huffington. I have never seen a more antagonistic, insulting and condescending interview of anyone by the media. I only wish the Times would have been as tough on George Bush before he sent our troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, cut taxes on our wealthiest citizens creating the largest debt in our history or deregulated our banks causing the economic crisis and the greatest wave of unemployment since 1929.
Here is the first question asked by the New York Times interviewer of Ms. Huffington;
New York Times: You've called your father a newspaperman. What did he do?
Can a question be more dripping with condescension and scorn? In using the phrase "You've called...", it directly implies that Huffington is a liar. What does this newspaperman think newspapermen do? I know what I would have done if this interviewer had asked me the question, "You've called your father a career military officer. What did he do ?" I can assure you the interviewer wouldn't be asking any more questions for some time until he got his jaws unwired.
And then there was this completely inappropriate statement that failed to even fit the question and answer format of the interview;
New York Times: I look at your writers much less than I find myself clicking on stuff that's been aggregated or the more salacious, boob-related posts.
I couldn't read this comment without envisioning this pompous and rather arrogant interviewer sitting at home at night with his tea and biscuits beside him in front of the fireplace with his laptop screen turned low and his faithful dog Fluffy sleeping quietly by his side as he furiously clicked and clicked and clicked on the boob-related posts.
Not that Ms. Huffington didn't hold her own. Here is one of the funniest comebacks I have heard in quite a while.
New York Times: Still, I'm amazed you're trying to tell me that The Huffington Post wasn't started as a lefty blog?
Arianna Huffington: I'm not trying to tell you anything. I'm telling you things. I'm not trying, O.K.?
I don't think anyone suspects that the New York Times is completely unbiased in its feelings toward Ms. Huffington, especially as the Huffington Post is quickly becoming its major competitor. But that does not give them license to treat its interviewees so disrespectfully. Certainly this interviewer was swayed by the fact that his newspaper's chief editor had come out two weeks previously with his own personal attack on Ms. Huffington in an editorial for the newspaper. Expecting the New York Times to interview Arianna Huffington fairly is a bit like thinking that "Candle Makers Weekly" would have granted an unbiased interview to Thomas Edison.
I feel sorry for the New York Times. Their revenue model depends primarily on three sources: classified ads, print ads and subscribers to their newspaper.
Classified ads have already shifted to Internet sites like Craigslist that makes them much easier to deliver, search and sort electronically. Print ads, while still popular, will decline as the subscription base erodes. And subscribers to print newspapers are declining rapidly. People are getting their news more rapidly from online sources like the Huffington Post even before that news is "fit to print".
I wish the New York Times all the best in moving from a paper-backed medium to an online news site, as it has historically always been my prime source for news. Imagine the number of trees that will be saved and the pollution avoided as delivery trucks no longer have to drag 20 pound print copies of the Sunday edition to your doorstep. But, it is not certain that the Times will be able to make this transition smoothly.
The New York Times has over 1,000 journalists whose stories and features should attract a broad audience on the Internet. But, to date, the Internet has been unwilling to pay big dollars for such content. The New York Times announced this week that they will begin offering paid subscriptions to their online newspaper for $195 per year or $260 a year if you also want iPad access. In addition to the difficulties the Times will have in getting people to pay for Internet content, such revenues will be directly cannibalistic to its print subscribers who are currently paying $455 a year for home delivery of the Times.
I myself don't see how the New York Times can make this transition successfully. It is like asking a horse and buggy maker to start manufacturing automobiles. Certainly the journalistic expertise at the Times is easily transferable to the Internet, but the revenues from print ads and print subscribers used to pay those journalists will come increasingly under attack. Not to mention all the print setters, machine operators, delivery people, print advertising people and surplus management executives that are not needed for an online version of the newspaper.
Some have argued that Huffington Post's model is unsustainable because they only have 150 paid journalists on the payroll. But that is with 25 million unique monthly visitors at the site today. There is nothing preventing the Huffington Post with its low delivery cost format from becoming the news site of choice for many of the one billion English speaking people on the planet or from them continuing to add to their rapidly expanding staff of paid journalists over time as they are currently doing. (Darling, when are we going to see the HuffPost translated into Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Hindu and Chinese, another 4 billion potential customers with very little additional costs of delivery?). If successful, that would mean the Huffington Post could easily in the very near future have the most paid journalists on its staff of any news organization in the world.
As a matter of fact, if the New York Times fails in its transition to the Internet it will be extremely important for the Huffington Post to pick up the banner of free speech in the world that the Times carried so nobly for decades, especially speech not overly influenced by big corporations, banks and their lobbyists. It is disturbing that due to technological change some of our brightest and most independent voices in the media are being silenced. The importance of an independent media in protecting our civil freedoms and human rights can not be overstated. We can only hope that those on the frontier of the technological revolution like Arianna Huffington recognize the importance of her work in providing a check and balance on corporate and government power in the world, the most important assignment of the fourth estate. Based on her constant and never ending criticism of corporate money in politics and their lobbyists influence in Washington it is pretty clear that she does.
John R. Talbott is a best selling author and periodic contributor to the Huffington Post. His new book is entitled, How I Predicted the Global Economic Crisis*: The Most Amazing Book You'll Never Read. You can read more about the new book and order it at www.johnrtalbott.com or at amazon.com.