Cheezburger CEO Huh speaks on the future of journalism

    Ben Huh (BSJ’99) — the CEO of Cheezburger, a man with his own Wikipedia page, and an alumnus of the Daily Northwestern — spoke on the future of journalism Tuesday. Huh was in Chicago for the invite-only conference Ordcamp.

    NBN offers the rest of its coverage of Huh’s speech in the genre that made his fortune, the meme:

    People have less time. People have more sources.

    This is a trend that’s not going to stop as people’s lives get more fragmented.

    Huh began with an overview of journalism’s current situation. He said that though current journalism students would fight “head-on” against working journalists about ethics issues, “we should be celebrating this time.”

    When you live your life, you get to cover stories the way you want.

    He then added a caveat:

    You’re getting this information from a man who runs sites where people get kicked in the nuts and people post cat photos.

    He spoke well of a recent article by former Microsoft executive Nathan Myrhvold, which compared the rise of subscription-based online journalism to the rise of cable TV.

    We like choice. We are willing to pay for things we didn’t have access to before. 

    The money part will resolve itself.

    “The only newspaper I pay money to subscribe to is the Economist,” said Huh. “Their reporting is terrible, but it’s the analysis they provide” that makes their subscription worthwhile.

    He went on to say that he doubted whether objective reporting could still be supported by a for-profit model:

    When I was at Medill, I was told to go find ‘the truth.’

    No one wants to hear ‘the truth,’ because it doesn’t really exist in people’s minds.

    You’re either in journalism to make the world a better place…

    Or you’re in journalism to run a business.”

    Investigative, civically-inclined reporting was “broccoli,” said Huh, and without a captive audience for classified ads, newspapers would no longer be able to delude themselves into thinking their readers paid for it.

    You can run a business, or you can run a nonprofit and serve broccoli.

    Huh concluded the predictive part of his speech there, answering questions about his past and Cheezburger’s history. He added one biographic note, though, about the meme, the very form in which he’s made his fortune:

    I actually thought it was may-may initially, because you don’t learn how to pronounce things on the internet.

    Photos by Alex Zhu and Robinson Meyer / North by Northwestern


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