Arianna Huffington: “I Didn’t Kill Newspapers, Darling,” Mumbles Something About Empathy

Yesterday, Arianna Huffington spoke to conference-goers at the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ (4A’s) “Transformation 2010” in San Francisco about the future of media, empathy, and the rise of user-generated content.

Quoting her own 2009 Webby Awards speech, Huffington announced “I didn’t kill newspapers, darling.”

Huffington went on to discuss how she envisions the future on new media, informing onlookers that the time had come to usher in the “4E’s” – engagement, enthusiasm, empathy and energy. Evidently, this involves in-depth, up-to-the-minute coverage on celebrity cellulite and ass makeup. She also encouraged advertisers and online news outlets to explore user-generated content.

Huffington explained her point:

We are in this brave new world and this discussion of pay walls completely misses what is happening. In every survey you read, you have about 80 percent of consumers who say that they don’t want to pay for news and opinion, unless it’s very specialized news and information.

We can’t use an analog map and expect to find our way in a digital world… The content provider is no longer at the center of the universe. At the center of the universe is now the news consumer.

And then… something about sleep:

Ms. Huffington’s last tenet, energy, got a little lost in her rousing endorsement of sleep, which she said can help foster the characteristic “that drives all others.”

While Huffington has proven on-target in many of her previous assessments on the future of new media, we can’t help but wonder whether a calculated focus on empathy™ by corporations and news outlets may eventually ring hollow to consumers and readers in much the same way the supposed trend towards “niceness” online can. If honesty and altruism are at the root of empathy, how can it ever be something genuinely espoused as part of a marketing campaign? At a time when events like the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Japan or the death of an Olympic participant have been covered — with video, with slideshows — into the ground by outlets because they bring in pageviews and exploit either the concern or morbid fascination of readers, where does empathy fit in?

As always, we’d love to know your thoughts. Let us know what your thoughts are on user-generated content and Huffington’s “4E’s” in the comments below.