The New Yorker piece on the demise of the American newspaper by Eric Alterman has been buzzing about among most folks I know for quite awhile now, so I’m assuming that many people have read it.
My favorite part of the article — and maybe this is for no other intellectual reason aside from the fact that I’m the type of person who has played “Mullet Watch” (one point for each of said ‘do that is spotted) on trips to North Carolina as well as at Milwaukee Brewers games in my own home state — is the way that Jonah Peretti of the Huffington Post describes the site’s editorial processes: “Business up front, party in the back.”
Alterman quotes him describing the rationale behind the mullet strategy as thus: “User-generated content is all the rage, but most of it totally sucks,” Peretti says. The mullet strategy invites users to “argue and vent on the secondary pages, but professional editors keep the front page looking sharp. The mullet strategy is here to stay, because the best way for Web companies to increase traffic is to let users have control, but the best way to sell advertising is a slick, pretty front page where corporate sponsors can admire their brands.”
Most newspapers are touchy about letting that party go on in back. As Alterman points out, sometimes that party does get out of hand and rumors take flight, but often falsities can be taken down quickly. Personally, I think the Huffington Post has the right idea here, and I think that Web users are capable of distinguishing comments and forums from journalist-produced content. And if they aren’t, we can always help them out by clearly and transparently stating our policies and explaining the verification process that professional journalists use that distinguishes their work.