CNN and Mashable? Welcome to Web journalism's end days

First AOL bought the Huffington Post, now CNN may acquire Mashable -- and Web reportage teeters closer to the edge

Need another sign that the 2012 Mayan apocalypse is right on track? Reuters TV reporter Felix Salmon claims that CNN is about to buy popular Web news site Mashable for the not inconsiderable sum of $200 million.

As a source of breaking news, Mashable is better called "Rehashable." On the scale of groundbreaking journalism, it lands somewhere between the Frostbite Falls Picayune Intelligence and "Uncle John's Bathroom Reader."

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For example, as I write this the lead story on Mashable is "iPad Shipping Time Now 2 to 3 Weeks." It seems the author of this incisive 142-word report visited Apple's iPad page, found the words "Available to ship in 2 to 3 weeks," and voilà -- instant blog post.

At press time that post has been tweeted 1,128 times. It's been "liked" on Facebook by 52 people and shared on StumbleUpon by 110 others. Nobody has yet built a Pinterest board about it, but that's only a matter of time.

At least you could call that story original reporting. The No. 2 story on Mashable at this moment is "Facebook Outs Suspected Bigamist Leading Double Life." That story builds on a report from Associated Press published in the Washington Post about a gentleman in Seattle named Alan L. O'Neill (formerly Alan Fulk) who got busted for having two wives at the same time when Facebook suggested that wife No. 1 befriend wife No. 2.

The author of this 256-word story also apparently Googled "Facebook bigamist" and came up with a 2010 story from MSNBC about another couple that suffered a similar fate. He mentioned a widely quoted stat about how often social media is used in divorce cases. That's the extent of the report.

I'd pay $200 million for that. Wouldn't you?

Now, I wouldn't want these bloggers' jobs. If I had to to churn out a dozen posts a day, I'd probably be copying recipes and reprinting them as breaking trend stories ("Seattle Couple Discovers Delicious Yet Nutritious Ways to Stretch Their Grocery Budget").

But that is the point of sites like Mashable and its spiritual brethren the Huffington Post: Crank out as much crap as quickly as you can and grab those Internet eyeballs before someone else does. In the Facebook bigamy story, at least HuffPo ran the original AP report instead of a watered-down summary. Now that Arianna is a mainstream media mogul with $315 million in her and her investors' pockets, she's trying hard to be respectable.

What is CNN getting out of its alleged investment in Mashable? Eyeballs. And maybe some street cred from the Web 2.0 crowd, though I doubt that will stick for very long. There is something to be said for the ability to drive traffic to your news site, but it should never be confused with the notion that quality journalism has anything to do with it.

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