In defense of celebrity slideshows: HuffPost’s Pulitzer proves serious and clickable content can coexist

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

It shouldn’t be news that someone working for Politico or the Huffington Post won a Pulitzer Prize. Good work is good work. Why should it matter if that good work appears on paper or on the web? It shouldn’t, of course. And pretty soon, it won’t.

What I find more interesting, however, is that in both cases the prize went to relatively obscure figures within their respective organizations. This is not meant to be an insult. But when I say “Politico,” you probably don’t automatically think of cartoonist Matt Wuerker. And when I say Huffington Post, the first name that pops into your head is likely not David Wood.

This, I think, provides some clues for the future (or at least the current state) of online journalism, in terms of what works journalistically and financially.

Right after the prizes were announced on Monday, HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel tweeted this: “Folks who think HuffPost is all slideshows/aggregation/celebrities…says a lot about what YOU click on..”

I think she’s on to something. The online business model that empowers quality content also necessitates some less serious content. This means that if appreciated my debunking of that Reuters hit piece on Marco Rubio (where’s the Pulitzer committee on that?) — or if you like TheDC’s coverage of “Operation Fast and Furious” (again, Pulitzer committee!) — you might still have to endure a slide show or two on “National Cleavage Day” (yes, it’s a burden.)

If you think of it, this makes sense. Newspapers traditionally contained serious journalism, alongside comics, gossip, sports, and advice columns. Some people bought papers for the fun stuff — and that paid the salaries for serious journalists. Why should the web be different?

There is another irony. David Wood and I worked together at Politics Daily. He was hired to do the kind of coverage for which he was just awarded. Politics Daily went away — precisely because it eschewed the salacious “slideshows/aggregation/celebrities” that Terkel references.

But because of the revenue generated at the HuffPost when people click on slideshows and celebrity gossip, David was able to continue producing some terrific reporting on the emotional and physical challenges confronting our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For every celebrity slideshow, maybe there’s a silver lining?

Matt K. Lewis