On Saturday night at the Columbia Club on West 43rd Street–really just a warren carved out of the Princeton Club, but who’s keeping score?–Arianna Huffington was making a lot of promises. The keynote speaker of the Columbia Daily Spectator Awards Dinner, and newly minted face of AOL, addressed a room of college journalists and recent graduates: “There are so many incredible journalists I’ve already met here–if anyone else is interested in working with me, please let me know!”
Ever the college debater type, Huffington was obviously aware of her audience’s interests and their loyalties–Joan Didion was in attendance to present an award in her late daughter’s honor, and was a nexus of audience attention even during Huffington’s speech (was Joan filling out a donation envelope for the Spectator‘s fund? Was she sharing her carrots with a college student whose food hadn’t arrived yet? Yes and yes!). Huffington called Didion a personal heroine, “not just for her work, but what she has said about American journalism.” Huffington said she had “practically laminated” Didion’s famous takedown of Bob Woodward, and quoted from it at length. Didion had no visible reaction.
After her homage to Didion, Huffington’s stream of theses overwhelmed. The editor compared her site’s unpaid bloggers to talk-show guests: “They want exposure, and we need content.” She believes neither in quoting polls nor in politically polarized journalism, and doesn’t think people will pay for news “except financial news, like the Wall Street Journal, and for some reason, weird porn.” Weird porn is thus news, as is celebrity slideshows: “Even people who only want to read Kierkegaard and Spinoza sometimes want to read about Lindsay Lohan,” she told an audience member who asked about SEO-bait. The most significant mention of college journalism was in the form of Huffington’s daughter’s commitment to “the Yale Daily Herald,” whose weekly deadlines are quite demanding.
The Observer asked how her newfound commitment to avoiding the “left and right” divide, as she put it Saturday, jibed with her 2008 book Right is Wrong. Was she backtracking? Well, she said, the book centered on the war in Iraq, not politics generally, and “Bob Woodward wrote two books about the war in Iraq before he admitted he was wrong.” She tilted her head and stared inquisitively at the Observer, answer concluded. A high-school journalist in attendance and in Converse asked Huffington how school papers could get on the web, and Huffington proposed expanding Patch, the local-news site she now oversees, to localities with “excellent high-school papers” and soliciting student participation. “Talk to me after!” Huffington exclaimed. The student never got her chance–Huffington strode out of the room, question time concluded, to fly to Washington for an appearance on This Week.
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