Journalism 101: Telling the real story

It’s always mystifying to me when journalists can’t see the story in the story they’re writing. They’re too busy rehashing the press release that they don’t bother to read between the lines of their own reporting. Perfectly illustrated today in Streaming Media.

“We really think consumers want content to be programmed, and they want content to be curated.”

–Ron Harnevo, senior vice president of video at AOL and CEO of 5Min Media, which was acquired by AOL in 2010

“HuffPost Live…won’t have shows. Instead, viewers will find a constant stream of discussion. ‘People don’t want to be talked at anymore. They don’t want somebody sitting up on high telling them, ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ People want to be talked with.'”

–Roy Sekoff, president of HuffPost Live and founding editor of The Huffington Post, which was acquired by AOL in 2011

If there was any doubt that AOL and The Huffington Post have different cultures, philosophies, goals and audience, I think that’s safely eradicated by these two quotes, which appear only grafs from each other in the same piece and contradict each other completely.

However, the resultant story, the one that got written, which was no doubt the one fed to the reporter from the company, is about the company’s so-called three-pronged approach to video. The actual story is either what the culture/audience split means to the bigger picture of the company; or it’s that very few companies, if any (including AOL/HuffPost), have any idea what consumers actually want. (Sekoff: “My metric isn’t going to be numbers.” No? OK. What is it going to be, then?) Perhaps the story is that AOL has no real long-term strategy (and certainly no long-term acquisition strategy), that it tries to survive from quarter to quarter and changes direction just as often. In any case, it’s certainly not “It’s a plan that’s worked well so far.” No, that kind of pablum is the height of irresponsible reporting — the writer might as well have penned a press release himself. And for future reference, when a person gets moved off brands s/he previously controlled, that’s not a promotion, no matter what the PR flack insists.

Ask questions that matter. Don’t take answers at face value. Believe that corporate hacks are trying to get one over on you and act accordingly. Let the story write itself; don’t go in with an agenda. It’s Journalism 101.

[Disclosure: I used to work at AOL HuffPost.]

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