After launching a string of hit humor Web sites, Ben Huh is turning his attention to online news.
The founder of Seattle-based Cheezburger — a network of websites, including Icanhascheezburger.com and failblog.org — detailed his plans in a wide-ranging talk to a group of Seattle journalists Tuesday night.
Long before he became the king of funny cat pictures on the Web, Huh studied journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill school. He graduated in 1999 at the peak of the dot-com boom and was recruited into the world of online startups.
Now, having drunk and “thrown up” journalism school Kool-Aid, he wants to apply what he’s learned to develop a new way to present and consume news.
His plan is to create an open-source platform that people could use to be “amateur editors,” designing and managing their own blend of online news sources and advertising. If there’s enough interest he’d like to develop it as a public tool like blogging platform WordPress.org.
The end product sounds like a portal creation tool along the lines of Netvibes.com, a site that lets users customize a personal home page with widgets and news feeds.
Huh floated the project — and riffed on topics ranging from Fox News to Twitter and democracy — at a Tuesday meeting of the Online News Association and regional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Afterward he said the news platform is a personal project of his, separate from Cheezburger.
Huh, whose sites draw on material generated by their online audience, believes people are able to develop a “sixth sense” about what’s truthful online.
“We are learning to use our emotional brain and our gut to figure out what is and isn’t good news,” he said.
Huh believes that editors must put more emphasis on topics that appeal to their audience, as opposed to stories that editors deem to be important.
“The role of, I think, the editor tomorrow is going to be more about understanding the tastes of their audience rather than trying to figure out what should and shouldn’t be covered based on some arbitrary standard by the media,” he said, adding that “a great editor knows how to increase ratings and also keep their integrity.”
Social media is one way to figure out audience interests, he said: “Social media gives us a lot of data about what people are looking for.”
Sites need more than viral hits that temporarily bring a large number of visitors, he said. They need to consistently provide good content that gets people to return again and again.
Selecting — or curating — a mix of news is different than reporting, he said.
“One of the things that I’ve found out is that people are really, really, really good at curating,” he said. “People are really good at filtering and curating, more so than they are at creating content.”
Huh continued: “The ability to curate requires that you sit at a computer. The ability to create requires that you get off your computer and go out there. Very, very different things and different people are willing to do that.”
Here’s a lengthy video that captures most of Huh’s presentation Tuesday. He was interviewed by Cory Bergman from MSNBC.com.
[do action=”brightcove-video” videoid=”947798708001″][/do]