Aggregation Aggravation: Germans Wary of New Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington hopes to replicate the success of her other international blog and aggregation sites in Germany -- but she may face more resistance here than in other countries.
The latest international edition of The Huffington Post, the controversial site run by Arianna Huffington, went live this Thursday in Germany.
Launched in cooperation with Tomorrow Focus AG, a part of the Hubert Burda Media conglomerate, Huffington Post Deutschland aims to bring her mixture of aggregation, reporting and celebrity punditry to German readers -- with the goal of becoming one of Germany's five biggest news sites by 2018.
The German media establishment, however, remains skeptical that Huffington's business model and media strategy, which has allowed it to surpass the New York Times' online readership in the United States, will be successful here.
In a translated blog post on the German site, Huffington welcomed readers, claiming "The Huffington Post represents the launch of a phase of change and disruption of the German media landscape." She pointed to the relatively low number of bloggers in Germany, arguing "this represents a huge growth potential for the HuffPost." She also wrote that she regrets never having learned German. In his debut post, Editor-in-Chief Sebastian Matthes, a former editor at Wirtschaftswoche, a weekly German business magazine, wrote, "in the next years, we aim to be indispensable, because we cover all of the big subjects in our own way."
Celebrities, Aggregation, Journalism and Punditry
That way of covering the news will, as in other countries, involve repurposing snippets of news from other sites and using large numbers of uncompensated bloggers. Similar to the American and other existing international versions of the site -- which include Huffington Post Canada, Japan, Spain and Italy -- the site's writers mostly contribute to the site free of charge in the hopes of gaining a wider readership. The German site is currently staffed by only 15 paid employees.
Replicating her formula elsewhere, Huffington has also recruited several prominent German figures for the launch, including former tennis star Boris Becker, who contributed a blog post promoting his new book, as well as Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Ursula von der Leyen. The site has also hired Cherno Jobatey, a German TV news personality, to do publicity.
In a post that had been released in advance of the site's launch, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of the German Bishop's Conference, used his Huffington Post Deutschland blog to argue for an end to the death penalty around the world, writing that it represents "murder" that has been "clothed in bureaucracy in order to give it the appearance of legality."
'Anti-Business Model Journalism'
The announcement of Huffington's German plans initially met with considerable resistance in Germany's troubled media landscape. Huffington had unsuccessfully approached several German publishers, including SPIEGEL and Axel Springer, about a possible partnership. The head of Axel Springer, which owns several large German newspapers, including mass-circulation daily Bild, called Huffington Post's strategy "anti-business model journalism" in May. Axel Springer says it rejected the partnership because the offer was "not economically stable." The site eventually found a partner in the Burda Verlag's Tomorrow Focus AG, which runs focus.de, Germany's third largest German news portal.
Some German bloggers welcomed the new platform, though. Romy Mlinzk, who writes the blog snoopsmaus, told broadcaster ARD that she would be interested in blogging for the site because, for her, it "isn't about making money, but about having the biggest possible readership and being attached to the internationally respected Huffington Post brand."
But according to some media experts, the model may face more difficulties in Germany than it has elsewhere. For one, Germany's rules on intellectual property rights were recently tightened. Ironically, this was partly at the behest of Burda Verlag's Hubert Burda, who was acting as president of the German Federation of Newspaper Publishers. These rules require websites to pay authors if they use more than a small quote of their work on their site, a rule which limits the Huffington Post Deutschland's ability to aggregate.
What's more, as Alexander Görlach, founder of The European magazine told SPIEGEL in May, Americans tend to underestimate the strength of Germany's existing online journalism. German journalism is dominated by a number of traditional, well-known publications with strong name recognition, and readers tend to be conservative when it comes to new arrivals.
German media researcher Christoph Neuberger told German news agency DPA this week that many Germans simply aren't familiar with the Huffington Post brand, and speculated that, as a result, it would have difficulty attracting the kinds of big-name bloggers it has elsewhere. "It doesn't have the same appeal as it does in the United States," he said.
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