Huffington Post - the fast growing US news and politics aggregator and blog machine - has launched a beta version of their new local news model.
Here's how cheif Huffer, Arianna Huffington, described the new site:
HuffPost Chicago is part local news source, part resource guide, and part virtual soap box -- featuring a collection of bloggers who know and love Chicago, and are looking to share their takes on everything from the Cubs to City Hall to the hot new local band to the best place for Greek food (and I can testify that there is a lot of that in Chicago!).
It's the first of what the Huffington Post hopes will be a long line of local news and blog packages. The model is a simple one - and very cheap to operate: one paid staffer aggregating local news coverage and riding herd on a whole pile of local (free) bloggers.
It's classic jujitsu, using your competitor's weight against him(her). Don't try and out report the well-established, deep pocketed (despite the doom and gloom newspaper news) local news outlet: repackage the best of its content. How hard is that?
The Chicago Tribune's web columnist, Steve Johnson, was suitably unimpressed:
"... the page collects and packages headlines mostly from the Tribune, Sun-Times and Crain’s Chicago Business (other sources will be used, too) and turns them into an all-Chicago front page designed to draw Chicagoans for whom a little local news is enough.
It’s Huffington’s Sampler, compared to the smorgasbord you get on those outlets' individual sites ..."
But Johnson, whose column runs under the very 1997 title "Hypertext", ended his piece with an observation that warmed my cold little heart:
"That said, all the local news outlets can and should borrow the big idea from Huffington Post like it borrows their stories. There’s no reason the Tribune, in 2008, shouldn’t be offering its online readers a Chicago page packed with the most interesting and important local news, no matter which outlet is reporting it."
If only that view was widely shared, newspapers would begin to have a chance on the web. Probably the number one job people want done is simple: find me interesting/useful stuff on the web. That doesn't mean we try and compete with Google or their mighty search index and algorithm, but it does mean we need to get serious about curating the web's information for our readers.