Celebrity news gets high page view impact. High culture wins credibility. Some newspapers deliver one in order to fund the other, and online news sources are on the same track. The Huffington Post announced that it is expanding in both domains, while USA Today is taking on The New York Times with the launch a book site earlier this week.
The HuffPo Celebrity section is already live, taking over content from AOL's PopEater, a celebrity gossip site. While the PopEater site is still running, it has a huge banner across the top linking to its new home at The Huffington Post. This "new home" is the HuffPo's first official section dedicated to celebrity gossip, although it has always covered fluffy entertainment news. The difference is that now the news will be churned out with more focus and frequency.
Balancing the first announcement, The Huffington Post will also be introducing HuffPo Culture. The new section has not gone live yet, but is promised to fill the space between "the arts and its society", according to the new culture editor, Gazelle Emami. In typical interactive Huffington Post style, the Culture section hopes to extend beyond a news source and become a vibrant forum for debate on highbrow films, books, and art.
"Our goal is to give our readers everything from buzzy items to thought-provoking opinion pieces delivered with a style and a voice that's uniquely HuffPost," said Arianne Huffington, the Editor-in-Chief of AOL Huffington Post Media group, in a comment on the expansion.
CNN said the announcement was indicative of Huffpo's general move towards a more traditional newspaper model. CNN took the heavily criticized decision to fire a journalist for "over-aggregating" content earlier this week as a sign that HuffPo is distancing itself from simply regurgitated online content and attempting to provide more original reporting. For the moment, the new Celebrity section's content is too shallow to predict that stories are getting less frivolous, but HuffPo culture has potential for serious, original journalism.
Another news source is also revamping its high culture reporting. Last Monday, USA Today introduced its book site, books.usatoday.com. The site includes reviews, bestseller lists, a Book Buzz blog, as well as a subsection for news and interviews.
While the website is a long way off from becoming the next New York Review of Books, Paid Content explains how the site aims to make it easy to discover and purchase new literature. It notes that the bestseller list is attempting to compete against the New York Times'. While the New York Times' bestseller list divvies up titles by category (20 in total), USA Today differentiates itself by aggregating all top sellers into a single list.
Beyond the book site, USA Today has an entertainment section with celebrity gossip. Its take on pop culture is not quite as salacious as The Huffington Post's - that said, USA Today doesn't shy away from posting photos of Kate Middleton's dress flying up a la Marilyn Monroe (although it remains tame compared to the sheer volume of celebrity bikini shots on HuffPo Celebrity).
While celebrity gossip certainly generates the page views online sites need, USA Today and The Huffington Post are setting out to prove that sites can balance both high and low culture journalism. Print content already includes high culture sections (especially on Weekend editions), but news sites are catching up. Increasingly, digital publishing is evolving beyond the fluff that optimizes page-hits.
Photo Credit: At Work With