At least in those earlier articles, there was a coherent, if overgrown, narrative. That’s not really the case here. When HuffPost media writer Michael Calderone tweeted about the article Sunday night, he billed it as a story on “Google ramping up DC lobbying efforts and giving more to conservative orgs.” That is in fact how the article opens, but before long it moves on to other subjects. (As a result, the sexy claim in the second graf about how “Google’s investment in the infrastructure of the conservative movement goes much deeper than what’s been reported” comes across as oversold; giving money to old-line conservative think tanks like Heritage and AEI to balance your donations to La Raza makes for tepid investment.) Readers who forge through the whole story will find sections on the roots of the Microsoft-Google feud, the tech companies’ forays into China, more on Google’s lobbying push, more on Microsoft and China, the policy debate over monopoly power and web search, the PROTECT IP Act and the fight over patent and copyright legislation, more on Google and China, more on patents and the software industry, and a kicker quote that’s pretty good but can’t knit all the fragments that preceded it into a cohesive whole.
There are three good 1,500-word articles in here: one on Google’s ramped-up lobbying efforts, another on Google and Microsoft’s battles in China and the way business imperatives there cloud the stories they like to tell here, and a third on what’s really at stake for consumers and businesses when one company dominates web search. (Most of the patent stuff, which isn’t new and has been well-reported elsewhere, could be scrapped.) But as published, there’s no narrative through-line to connect those stories together. What we have instead reads like one huge newspaper article that’s crying out for the old Huffington Post’s “we-read-it-and-found-the-best-parts-so-you-don’t-have-to” treatment. (Business Insider, where are you when we need you?)
None of this is to suggest HuffPost should abandon long-form work. I’m only an occasional reader of the site, but I sought out this article precisely because I knew it represented a lot of effort on an important topic by some talented journalists. Whatever the limitations of the genre, long-form reportage offers a way to focus attention on a subject, and to signal that you’re demanding readers’ attention, in a way that shorter articles can’t. (It can also be, more cynically, an exercise in journalistic status-seeking.) But HuffPost should focus on bolstering its storytelling skills. There are still plenty of anonymous editors at places like The New Yorker, New York, The Atlantic, and elsewhere who know how to shape and trim raw copy. The next time Arianna feels like poaching journalistic talent from an establishment outlet, she might forgo name recognition and give one of them a call. It’d be a step toward making HuffPost’s well-reported long reads really worth reading.