By Lynn Walsh | October 28th, 2011
By: Pat Kane
Retribution came quickly after a humor columnist questioned the choice of Ben Huh, CEO and Founder of the Cheezburger Network, as a speaker at the Online News Association Conference. Journalists also scratched their heads as to why Gene Weingarten wrote about an event he did not attend.
In a Washington Post humor column Thursday, Weingarten described Huh as the keynote speaker and “fearless charioteer leading new journalism into its bold future” of “a Web site featuring goofy pictures of readers’ cats.”
Jane McDonnell, executive director of ONA, clarified that Huh was not a keynote speaker.
“Ben Huh was actually our Friday night networking speaker, providing some comic relief, yes, but also giving the crowd some painless lessons on how to build sites that actually make money — no LOLcats in sight,” she wrote in the article’s online comments.
The conference, hosted in Boston in September, featured four keynotes including a former staffer for President Barack Obama and journalists who were detained in the Middle East, McDonnell explained.
Journalists turned to the comment section and Twitter to vent.
“Gene, I’d worry about getting your facts straight more than LOLcats,” tweeted Robert Hernandez, a professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication.
Mandy Jenkins of Huffington Post was among those who questioned the column.
“Unlike @geneweingarten, many of us would be fired for tearing apart an event we didn’t read up on, let alone attend,” she tweeted.
“Don’t bother attending the events you write about. Worked for @geneweingarten” tweeted Steve Buttry, director of community engagement & social media at Journal Register Co.
“You missed a great ONA, both by not attending and by missing by a mile in your second-hand account of the event,” Buttry added in comments. “But I will say that Ben Huh provided some excellent insights about journalism, leavened with some humor about cats. I know you’re a dog guy, but I’m pretty sure you would have laughed.”
The columnist, who ignited an online outcry by dismissing the concept of branding for journalists earlier this year, seemed to predict much of the same reaction.
“Mostly, they’ll contend I am being shallow and superficial and shabby with the facts. I’m pretty sure they will do this without any sense of irony,” he wrote.
Weingarten may have gotten a free conference out of the deal, though.
“You should come see for yourself, if that wouldn’t blow your dyspeptic, cantankerous old fud/codger cover,” wrote McDonnell in the comments, and confirmed the offer in an e-mail. “Love to have you as our guest at the next conference, Sept. 20-22 in San Francisco, as well as offer you a free membership (a $75 value!) so you can get some first-hand facts about the 2,100 serious journalists (including our Board Secretary, Postie Cory Haik) who are working hard at producing news. Bob Woodward’s invited, too.”
The response prompted an “Ask the Post” editors blog post by the end of the day.
Nikons in hand, Pat Kane covers the stories of the Tri-Cities of Virginia as multimedia editor of The (Petersburg) Progress-Index. Pat joined the Virginia Pro Chapter Board in 2008, stepping up to serve as chapter secretary the following year. After growing up all over the globe as a Navy brat, Pat graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007 after working four years at The Commonwealth Times. 140-character insights are available @kane804.