Media World: HuffPo finds original reporting is not as easy as it looks

The Huffington Post is trying to prove to readers and advertisers that it's more than an "Internet newspaper" that reprints content from other sources alongside the output of celebrity "volunteer" bloggers like Alec Baldwin. But those strategies have made it one of the most popular online destinations, and moving beyond it will be difficult.

At the end of March, HuffPo announced plans to fund a group of investigative journalists in conjunction with The Atlantic Philanthropies, with an initial budget of $1.75 million. Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the site, told the Associated Press that the money would fund 10 staff journalists who will primarily coordinate stories with freelancers on stories about the economy.
That sounds great in theory but may prove more difficult for a site best known -- and often criticized for -- reprinting stories originating from other publishers. Creating original content is not easy. It's difficult to do under the real-time deadlines of the Web. The problems are magnified if you want to do "investigative reporting." Developing these stories is not necessarily expensive, but it must be managed carefully to avoid costly lawsuits.

All of these issues help probably explain the complaints about the Huffington Post Investigative Fund mentioned in Silicon Alley Insider. "Teri Buhl -- she [has done] work for the New York Post and Trader Monthly -- tells us the HuffPo Fund is having trouble 'getting any content out,' " SAI said. She added that the site " 'lied about having their site ready and having a business editor to edit my work.' "

Oddly, SAI reported that Buhl bailed on HuffPo, which planned to buy one of her stories, after waiting five weeks before selling it to a different publication. Five weeks is hardly an eternity. Any smart editor will take his or her sweet time vetting a complicated investigative story. This is a process that can take months, particularly if allegations of illegality or unethical behavior are being made. Sometimes, it may take a year or more.

The newsgathering process is as ugly as making sausage. Egos get bruised -- as seems to be the case with Buhl -- because writers are told that their stories are not as compelling as they think. Ideas are floated on how to make a story better. Some ideas are brilliant; others are stupid.

Buhl alleges that some members of the HuffPo team don't know what they are doing. That's hardly a shock: reporters and editors are united in their passionate belief that the other is incompetent. HuffPo argued that Buhl's story was not up to standards and required a correction when it was published.

The issues at HuffPo will be replicated at many websites as they venture into creating more original content. Whether they have the patience to stick with what can be a nerve-racking process remains to be seen.


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