This Friday on Al Jazeera’s talk show South2North, Haru Mutasa chats to Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Pulitzer Prize-winning online new site, The Huffington Post, and James Chau, a CCTV news presenter based in Beijing. The episode was filmed alongside The One Young World Summit at Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.
On the need to spotlight the good
“Media has to play a very different role than it’s been playing,” says Arianna. “As well as doing all the things it does do, like holding the powers-that-be accountable and speaking truth to power, the media has to put the spotlight on the good things, on what is working. That is a huge responsibility and we are not doing a good enough job. We have the opportunity to help good things scale, to help them replicate, and we need to approach that with as much seriousness and as many resources as we are investing in covering bad news.”
She says The Huffington Post’s dedicated Good News section is one of their most popular. “In fact, people prefer to share good news,” she says.
On the death of traditional media
Arianna denies that traditional journalism will die out. “There are going to be fewer newspapers but the newspapers that have adopted best are going to survive forever,” she says, praising The New York Times and The Guardian in particular.
On the convergence of old and new media
Pointing out that The Huffington Post won its Pulitzer after spending nine months on a 10-part investigate series on the lives of returning war veterans, Arianna says, “It’s no longer like there are these two separate worlds of old media and new media. New media like The Huffington Post is doing investigative journalism; old media is using social media and blogging, so there’s a real convergence.”
On the importance of trust
Arianna says traditional media processes like fact-checking are just as relevant to online news. “Trust is such a precious commodity,” she says. “If you lose your readers’ or viewers’ trust, you’re in real trouble. We have absolute rules around fact-checking and verification. I always tell our reporters, ‘Being first and being wrong is just not something to aspire to. Better to be second or third or fourth and be right.’”
On hybrid journalism
Arianna considers The Huffington Post to be “a hybrid form of journalism… which is both a journalistic enterprise that does investigative journalism…. but at the same time a platform. I love that just as much: that we can have tens of thousands of bloggers. Provided they meet a kind of quality standard, it doesn’t matter who they are: they may be a homeless student or the President of France. We love the fact that they can be next to each other. There is no hierarchy except having something to say.”
On anonymity and online trolls
Arianna, James and Haru discuss The Huffington Post’s recent decision to ban online anonymity after struggling with online trolls.
“We make a big effort to keep the conversation civil,” says Arianna. “The Huffington Post has had almost 300m comments since we launched. We have an incredibly active community and we treasure that. If you come on a site and there are all these nasty comments, you don’t want to participate…. There have to be protections for whistle-blowers, for people speaking truth to power, exposing corruption at a risk to their own safety or livelihood. That we are going to maintain. But trolls who simply want to hide behind anonymity to indulge in ad hominem attacks basically spoil it for us, and there is no reason to allow that.”
On media in China
James says that in China, while new media is expanding rapidly, television is still the most reliable source of information. “TV is still the bedrock in China,” says James. “A lot of people don’t have stable electricity supplies, don’t have access to computers and wouldn’t even know how to use it if you put one in their hand. Mobile is breaking the barriers, but I think the television is still the root.”
Arianna echoes the growing importance of mobile, especially for targeting the “three billion new people who are going to come online in the next few years.”
On censorship in China
“I haven’t been asked personally to change something, to drop a story,” says James. “I’m living proof – as not only a journalist but as an AIDS activist, who can anchor on the news, mainstream in the evening, very publically, and can bring my stories onto all the programmes – that things do progress and that things are in flux.”
On why franchising The Huffington Post in Africa would be easy
Arianna says that bringing The Huffington Post to an African country like South Africa would be “easy.”
“Shall we do it?” she asks Haru. “The Huffington Post now has a template – of technology, of how we work editorially – so we have found it very easy to launch in other countries. With the exception of the UK and Canada, where we launched by ourselves, we’ve launched with media partners… They are 50/50 joint venture partnerships… Basically we hire together jointly the journalists who are going to run The Huffington Post in that country. It’s entirely rooted in that country’s culture. In Japan, the editor doesn’t speak English; when we speak, we have to have a translator. It’s like having a global media presence. When something happens in one country, like they are choosing the pope in Rome, we have all the journalists on the ground who can cover it and then we can translate it into the other languages. The same goes with blogs – if we have the President of France’s blog on the French site, we can translate it and have it available on all the other sites.”
On the dangers of hyper-connectivity
Arianna warns that hyper-connectivity can be dangerous. “Social media can be incredibly important but it can also be dangerous… If we are connected 24/7, we are disconnected from ourselves. That’s why we started this whole editorial initiative, which we’re calling the third metric, to redefine success beyond money and power… to include our wellbeing, our wisdom, our capacity to connect with ourselves, which often means getting disconnected from our smartphones.”