Cheezburger founder, Medill alumnus Ben Huh provides optimistic insight for future of journalism
By Christen Carter
January 27, 2012
Ben Huh (BSJ99), the founder of Cheezburger, the largest humor destination on the web, told the audience at his
lecture on Tuesday that major innovation in journalism is good news for the
“What’s fascinating to me is that there’s
a lot of ‘woe is me’ going on in journalism, especially in the newspaper
industry as people get laid off and people lose their jobs,” Huh said. “But I
feel like we should be celebrating this time.”
During the next five years, Huh predicts
that consumers will see a revolution in the way news is delivered, presented
He joked, though, that this insight was
coming from someone whose company is famous for cat pictures with misspelled
captions. However, he isn’t only about humor.
“Ben has a lot of foresight about what’s
going to be important for the industry,” said Assistant Professor Jeremy
Gilbert, who worked with Huh at the Daily Northwestern when the two were
undergraduate students at Medill.
Now, more than a decade later, Huh is in
the process of starting a news company called Circa, which was born, in part, from his frustrations with the way
traditional news is presented.
“The goal of Circa,” Huh said, “is to
create a beautiful news consumption experience for the mobile web.”
Huh also commented on how he thinks the
newspaper industry continues to struggle financially because many dailies
haven’t figured out their true mission.
“It is very difficult to not give the
audience what it wants and expect them to pay,” Huh said, adding, “Either
you’re in journalism to make the world a better place or you’re in the
He referenced an article by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief strategist and chief technology officer at
Microsoft, who compared journalism content to cable television programming.
When cable television first debuted during the early 1970s, many viewers did
not want to pay for it when network shows were free. However, over time, they
grew more willing to pay because cable offered specialized content and choice.
“We like choice,” Huh said. “We are
willing to pay for things that we didn’t have access to before.”
Huh also spoke about his own company, Cheezburger,
which took something that interested people – humorously captioned pictures of
cats – and provided a place for users to view them and to generate more of
Though Huh’s career diverged from
journalism, he said that if he were to go back in time, he would still choose
Medill as his undergraduate school and Northwestern as his university.
“Medill taught me the fundamentals – that
accuracy matters. The Medill F is still a very, very valuable tool,” Huh said. “Learning the techniques of journalism
is very important in life … Your ability to make a case out of the ideas that
you have and other evidence that you have collected is incredibly valuable.”
He also said he is pleased by what Medill
is doing now.
“I’m very happy to see Medill evolving
and figuring out what is valuable to journalism,” Huh said, “especially in the
age where people have less time, people have more sources and people have a lot
more going on in their lives.”
To see an extended version of Huh's talk, go to our YouTube page.