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Huffington vs. Murdoch: to the death

Business Maverick

Business Maverick, Media

Huffington vs. Murdoch: to the death

You know the battle’s heating up when the contenders start calling one another names. In the bout between Arianna Huffington and Rupert Murdoch, the gloves have just come off.

On December 1 Arianna Huffington, vocal and valiant founder of the Huffington Post, was asked to give a speech at a journalism conference in Washington DC. Her topic was predictable and staid, but the fact that “she” was giving it was where the interest lay – who, after all, wouldn’t want to hear Arianna’s thoughts on how to save journalism? Also, she was speaking a little after Rupert Murdoch, the guy who’s declared all-out war on Internet aggregators, a category to which the HuffPost firmly belongs.

Arianna quickly established the ground rules: aggregators had been called rude names by Murdoch and his people – “parasites,” “content kleptomaniacs,” “vampires,” etc. – and so there was no need for niceties. Her big counterpunch was aimed at Murdoch’s threat to remove his company’s news stories from Google, which, she said, showed a “fundamental lack of understanding of how the Web works.” Her question to the man was the follow-up left hook: “So what are you going to do, try to make the case that no one should be able to talk about or write about or comment on or report on the stories you make them pay for? It’s a ridiculous notion.”

Huffington’s stance, of course, was based on the contention that the link economy is the juice that drives the Web. The ability to choose your own path, to follow links out of a story, to dig deeper – in other words, to imprint your own digital identity on whatever the Web has on offer that day – is what we as news consumers have come to expect. Free content is an imperfect reality, she said, but a reality nonetheless. She compared it to what Churchill said about democracy: “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

It’s an ongoing battle and nobody can say with certainty who’ll emerge victorious, but who would’ve predicted five years ago that one woman with a humble online vision would be trading blows like this with Rupert Murdoch? It bears remembering, too, that the Huffington Post recently overtook Washingpost.com in unique monthly visitors, and that the site – off a plain vanilla advertising model – is a hair’s breadth away from profitability.

By Kevin Bloom

Read more: The full text of Arianna Huffington’s address in the Huffington Post


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