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商业 - 传媒与文化

《赫芬顿邮报》回归报纸传统

Dan Mitchell 2011年07月15日

《赫芬顿邮报》希望通过炮制大量名人花边新闻和其它低俗内容来吸引网络访问量,从而为严肃的新闻报道赚取资金——与报纸的做法如出一辙。

    美国互联网第一大报《赫芬顿邮报》(The Huffington Post)的业务很大程度上依赖于综合和汇编他人采写的新闻报道。不过本周一,该报的一名科技记者却因为汇总他人撰写的报道而受到了停薪留职的处分。就在同一天,该报还推出了新的“《赫芬顿邮报》名人版”和“《赫芬顿邮报》文化版”页面。

    这两起事件突显了《赫芬顿邮报》目前正在经历的变化:《赫邮》现在正在调拨人力财力,试图由汇总信息(廉价)向原创报道(昂贵)的方向转变。不过在某种程度上,花边新闻也是必不可少的。

    《赫邮》的这条路也是许多报纸走过的路。可惜的是,大多数报纸,尤其是那些现在举步维艰的地区性报纸,都无法复制这一模式,因为这种模式只在规模效应下才能发挥效果。《赫邮》现在已被美国在线(AOL)收购,由于新闻报道网络上到处都是,因此《赫邮》的利润率也非常单薄。要想赚够足够的钱给新闻记者(便宜)和编辑们(昂贵)发薪水,唯一的办法就是凭借巨大的访问量来卖广告位。

    许多人批评《赫邮》轻浮肤浅,其创始人阿里安娜•赫芬顿也因此颇受诟病。因此《赫邮》现在貌似是真心想把自己办成一份严肃的大报,报道一些严肃的话题(同时在其它某些方面继续保持肤浅和轻浮)。媒体顾问克莱•舍基上周在一份流传甚广的博文中指出,大多数老百姓并不在乎严肃的话题,因此,如果你唯一的卖点就是严肃,那么你很难赚取足够的访问量。没有访问量,也就没有了做严肃报道的钱。

    舍基还指出报纸业务之所以繁荣了几十年,就是因为报纸是把它的产品打包出售的。大多数人都对体育、八卦、娱乐、漫画、分类广告、优惠券等信息很感兴趣,相比之下,只有较少的读者喜欢看新闻——而新闻才是报纸的主要产品,不管是不是有很多人愿意读新闻,新闻在我们的生活中都是必不可少的。而报纸用来报道严肃新闻的钱,其实是来自除了新闻以外的其它内容,因为它们才是读者真正感兴趣的东西;而严肃新闻,不管人们是否想看,但确实必要。但是网络的天性是非集成的,要看分类广告可以去分类目录网站Craiglist,要看体育新闻可以去ESPN.com,要看名人绯闻可以上TMZ.com,这就迫使新闻网站在很多情况下只能自力更生。

    不过《赫邮》却以某种方式将所有信息重新打包在了一起。《赫邮》称自己为“网路报纸”是有原因的。它希望通过大量炮制名人的花边新闻以及其他低俗内容来吸引访问量,从而为严肃报道赚取资金。(笔者请《赫邮》对本文进行评论,但《赫邮》并未回复)而严肃的新闻报道反过来可以抬高网站的身价。没有新闻的报纸是不可能办好的。

    当然,“严肃”不“严肃”也是件仁者见仁的事。当年“疫苗导致自闭症”的假新闻轰动一时,《赫邮》就是这条假新闻的主要传播渠道之一(在现在看来,这条假新闻不啻于一个疯狂的阴谋论。)几年前,《赫邮》还有一个半正式的专栏,由小罗伯特•肯尼迪(当然,策划“疫苗导致自闭症”报道的人里也有他)和布兰登•德梅勒主笔,专栏的名字就叫:“发掘本周主流媒体遗漏了的新闻”(Unearthed: News of the Week the Mainstream Media Forgot to Report)。只不过这个专栏里的每一则新闻都可以链接到某份主流媒体的报道,因此有些自打嘴巴的嫌疑。

    《赫邮》一方面弱化了“拿来主义”的力度,一方面也渐渐在重要新闻事件的报道上变得更加严肃。它的新闻、商业和科技频道可以说至少是中庸的。与此同时,它的新闻报道的质量良莠不齐,从星期一的事件即可看出这一点。

    被停职的作者名叫艾米•李。据称导致她停职的那篇文章“简短而彻底地改写(或曰重写)”了AdAge.com的西蒙•杜门科撰写的一篇文章——杜门科自己如是说。艾米•李没有在文中添加任何内容,也没有进行任何分析,属于纯粹的摘抄。

    网络小报Gawker网的瑞安•泰特在本周二指出,这种现象并不稀奇,而且他还举出了另外几个类似的例子,其中的几起案例就发生在最近。不过泰特忽略了一件事,那就是随着《赫邮》朝着更加原创化的方向发展,抄袭的现象正变得越来越罕见。而且泰特也没有提到另一个事实——《赫邮》并不是唯一一家这样干的美国媒体。【例如就在本周一,《好莱坞报道》杂志(Hollywood Reporter)刊载了一篇关于歌星布鲁斯•斯普林斯汀的文章,这篇文章就是大段摘抄了《纽约时报》(New York Times)的一篇文章,有好几处还直接引用了原文的直接引语。】

    现在唯一的问题是,《赫邮》和它的新东家美国在线是否能负担得起这次转变。《赫邮》向许多新员工发放了高薪(其中许多员工是该报从《纽约时报》和BBC等大牌媒体挖来的)。不过《赫邮》仍然打算招聘一些经验不足的年轻记者,靠他们来产生尽可能多的内容,以帮助《赫邮》达到成功所需的规模效应。

    要达到这个目标,《赫邮》可能还免不了要炮制大量的名人八卦。不过这就是21世纪的报纸。

    译者:朴成奎

    The Huffington Post, which built its business largely by aggregating and summarizing news stories reported and written by others, on Monday suspended a young technology writer for aggregating and summarizing a story written by someone else. Also on Monday, HuffPo unveiled its new HuffPost Celebrity and HuffPost Culture pages.

    Together, the two events highlight the changes the Huffington Post is undergoing: it's transitioning away from aggregation (cheap) and toward original reporting (expensive), which it is financing, in part, with fluff.

    That's just what newspapers used to do. Sadly, though, most newspapers, especially troubled regional papers, can't replicate the model because it only works at scale. Margins at HuffPo, now owned by AOL (AOL), are thin, as they are all over the Web, and the only way the site can make enough money to pay all its new reporters (cheap) and editors (expensive) is by selling ads against massive traffic volume.

    For all the criticism HuffPo and its founder Arianna Huffington take for being lightweight and shallow, the site seems to genuinely want to take on serious issues in a serious way (along with being lightweight and shallow elsewhere). As media consultant Clay Shirky pointed out last week in a widely circulated blog post, most people don't care very much about serious issues, so it's hard to draw the amount of traffic necessary to finance coverage of them if that's all you have.

    Shirky also noted how the newspaper business thrived for decades because it sold its products in a bundle. Most people were interested in sports, gossip, entertainment features, comics, classified ads, coupons and the like; relatively few were interested in what was supposedly the main product: news. The other stuff – the stuff people actually cared about – financed coverage of serious news, something that we need whether or not many people actually want to read it. The Web is unbundled by its nature (you can get classifieds at Craiglist, sports at ESPN.com, and celeb gossip at TMZ.com), forcing news, in most cases, to make it on its own.

    But Huffington Post is, in a way, putting the bundle back together for the Web. There is a reason the site calls itself "The Internet Newspaper." By churning out loads of lowbrow celebrity gossip and the like, HuffPo hopes to be able to draw the traffic necessary to finance more serious content. (HuffPo did not respond to an offer to comment for this article.) The serious stuff, in turn, helps give the site cachet. Newspapers wouldn't have done nearly so well if they contained no news.

    Of course, "serious" is in the eye of the beholder. HuffPo has been a major channel for spreading the proven-false idea that vaccines cause autism (a notion that, at this point, is tantamount to a lunatic conspiracy theory). A few years back it ran a semi-regular column by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (not coincidentally, one of the vaccine-autism mongers) and Brendan DeMelle called "Unearthed: News of the Week the Mainstream Media Forgot to Report," in which nearly every item was linked to a mainstream media report, somewhat undermining the premise.

    But just as HuffPo has been winding down its aggregation, it also has been slowly getting more serious in its coverage of hard news events. Its news, business and tech channels could be described as at least middlebrow, for example. At the same time, they are uneven, as the incident on Monday revealed.

    The post for which reporter Amy Lee was suspended consisted "a short but thorough paraphrasing/rewriting" of a post written by AdAge.com's Simon Dumenco, Dumenco himself complained. Lee didn't add anything or provide any analysis or anything other than a summary of someone else's work.

    Gawker's Ryan Tate observed on Tuesday that this isn't novel, and he provided a few examples of similar posts by other writers – some of them recent. What he didn't say was that such "overaggregation" is becoming more and more rare at HuffPo as it transitions into producing more original, staff-written content. He also didn't mention that HuffPo is far from alone in doing this. (On Monday for example, The Hollywood Reporter published a long summary/paraphrase of a New York Times article about Bruce Springsteen, complete with several quotes from the original story's sources.)

    The only question is whether HuffPo and its new corporate owner, AOL, can afford that transition. It's paying high salaries to many of its new hires (several of whom it poached from the likes of The New York Times and the BBC), but it tends to hire young, inexperienced writers who are expected to churn out as much content as possible to help achieve the massive scale HuffPo needs to succeed.

    It might take a lot of celebrity fluff to make that happen. Welcome to the newspaper of the 21st century.

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