Originally published 26 January 2018 in The QH
“Citizen journalists” will no longer be featured by The Huffington Post, with the publication announcing the dissolution of its contributor network – an online body of over 100,000 unpaid writers.
The move comes as part of a combined effort to declutter the website and refocus on professional, verified journalism – all the more essential, The Post claims, in a world of “fake news”. The site’s restructuring also includes the addition of new “personal” and “opinion” sections.
In an official announcement, editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen said the changes were intended to address today’s “cacophonous world”, and help strengthen democracy against “the tsunami of false information we all face daily”.
The Huffington Post’s notion of a “contributor network” – giving a media platform to anyone who offers a voice – might seem quaint in the age of Twitter, but it was revolutionary when first launched in 2005. The content was a mix of reportage and personal essays. There were examples provided by many public figures – including Oprah; Jennifer Aniston; and then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2007.
But most notable was when the purely amateur pieces made national news – such as when Mayhill Fowler, an aspirational campaign journalist, quoted Obama as deriding working class voters for “[clinging] to guns or religion.”
The move to scrap this 13 year old bastion of democratised journalism might be taken by some as a move towards elitism, particularly from a publication which made citizen journalism a sticking-point of its original manifesto. But Lydia Polgreen has a point – the internet is a very different place from 2004, with a wide array of social media platforms for anyone to use, and swamped by an increasing glut of fake news.
Even the Huffington Post was not immune from the creep of suspicious, unverified content – with a contributor (bylined as Waqas KH) submitting a positive piece about Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization executive. It was soon revealed that the mysterious contributor – a Pakistani national – had been paid to provide the content, which was later deleted.
In the end, the move signals a significant shift for The Huffington Post’s editorial agenda – moving away from Arianna Huffington’s liberal populism to more thoroughly vetted and nationally focused reportage. Ms Polgreen has said as much, commenting “We’re thinking less about how many people are crawling around the halls of Congress asking the same questions to the same senators all day every day,” adding that she aspired to “a large cadre of [Huffington Post] journalists” across the United States.