HuffPo puts Donald Trump news in 'entertainment.' Smart or a stunt?

The Huffington Post says Trump's campaign is 'a sideshow.' But readers won't notice whether the Trump story they’re looking at is labeled as entertainment – and they won’t care.

Dominick Reuter/Reuters
Businessman and Republican candidate for president Donald Trump greets supporters after speaking at a campaign event in Laconia, N.H., on Thursday.

The Huffington Post says it’s going to put stories about Donald Trump’s presidential run in its entertainment section, not its political one.

“Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow,” write HuffPo’s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim and editorial director Danny Shea in a note to readers. “We don’t take the bait.”

Is this a correct decision? Is it noble? Is it ... bizarre? DC reporters are chewing over these and related questions like they were gum on this summer Friday. That’s entirely predictable. The contretemps combines two of journalism’s favorite topics: Donald Trump, and itself.

Journalism professor Jay Rosen is on the thumbs-up side of this ledger. An acerbic and often astute critic of the journalist practices in the modern digital world, Rosen judges the HuffPo move “brilliant."

“Huff Post’s Trump decision is a move against automatic thinking and herd behavior in campaign coverage,” Rosen tweets.  " 'We think for ourselves,’ it says.”

On the thumbs-down side were critics who saw the move as dealing with advertising more than editorial. The HuffPo is pointing at itself as much as Trump, defining its brand as contrarian, in this view.

Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple, another sharp voice, called it a “Trumpian stunt," and wondered aloud if all Palin family coverage would now be shuffled into the entertainment section, too.

What’s our hot take? Glad you asked!

WHO’LL NOTICE? Journalism today is disaggregated. Readers come to stories via Google, or their Facebook feed, or some non-home-page entry point. They often don’t even know which publication wrote the story they’re reading, much less what “vertical” it’s located in. They won’t notice the Trump story they’re looking at is labeled as entertainment, and they won’t care.

WILL SUBJECTS CHANGE? It’s the type of story, not its location, that’s important here. If you’re writing about Trump’s screeds against illegal immigration, that’s a political subject, by definition. Putting it in entertainment doesn’t change its substance.

However, if HuffPo starts writing about Trump’s clothes on the campaign trail, and who’s that women behind his left shoulder (wink, nudge), we’ll know they’re serious about covering him as mainly an entertainment star.

SO WHAT? All that said, good for HuffPo. Journalism is not a hushed private club, where you get thrown out for wearing shorts to lunch. They can do whatever they want with their coverage to make what they consider a valid point. Then we’ll all argue about it, loudly. That’s what Fridays are for.

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