Brunswick Review Issue 2

Arianna Huffington - Editor-In-Chief, Huffington Post

New media winners will combine new ways with the best practices of their traditional counterparts, she tells Brunswick Director Lane Hudson.

Interviewed by: Lane Hudson, Brunswick, Washington DC

Arianna Huffington and her partners launched HuffingtonPost.com in May 2005 amid considerable uncertainty regarding its future. 

In the time since, HuffPost, as it is known, has grown to be one of the most influential outlets for political news and opinion in the United States, particularly with the progressive government now in power in Washington. More people in the American capital read HuffingtonPost.com than read the Wall Street Journal, it is the most ‘linked to’ site on the internet, and it generates as many as 20m unique visitors each month.

HuffPost has more than 3,000 bloggers today, a dramatic increase from 300 three years ago, and over 60 paid staffers, of whom 38 work in editorial, including seven reporters. Importantly, the site has also ventured into news aggregation, video blogging, investigative journalism, and live commentary on television networks.

Huffington herself, named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine in 2006, is now arguably one of the most powerful figures in the news business worldwide.

In mid-2009 she was invited to give testimony to the US Congress at a hearing on the future of journalism in the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet chaired by Senator John Kerry. 

Old media has long had standards of fairness and accuracy promulgated by respected industry associations. How do you see new media adopting these kinds of standards?

The best journalists working online embrace the ways of new media, including transparency and immediacy, while never letting go of the best practices of traditional media, including fairness and accuracy. For instance, all of The Huffington Post’s bloggers must adhere to the highest standards of accuracy. Any factual errors must be corrected within 24 hours or a blogger’s password is revoked. Checks and balances to ensure accuracy in online reporting are continuing to develop, and the web has proven to be an effective enforcer when it comes to shedding light on stories that aren’t true. And while HuffPost is not a member of a media ethics organization, our reporters and bloggers know that they must always follow journalism’s best practices.

How do you rebut those who say journalistic ethics are compromised and editorial resources constrained on the internet?

It’s true that the internet makes it possible for anyone with a computer to express his or her views, and for those views to potentially reach a large audience. But online news sites must adhere to the same journalistic principles as their traditional media counterparts – or suffer the consequences. Indeed, I feel that in many ways online news sites are much more responsive to issues of accuracy. Errors are corrected much faster, and changes are shown transparently – not tucked away in some hard-to-find corrections column. 

Have we turned a corner where online journalism has become such a force that it warrants communications professionals treating both old and new media equally?

Yes, I believe that communications professionals now see that online news outlets and blogs can be as powerful in their reach and impact as their traditional media counterparts. Because of our linked economy, a well-respected niche blog covering a specific industry or company can often be as influential as a story in a major newspaper or TV network news program.

What is the most prominent example of Huffington Post either breaking news or providing detailed coverage in the way old media traditionally would have done? And was there an added advantage that you had over traditional media?

The Huffington Post broke many stories during the 2008 US presidential campaign, from “Bitter-gate,” which was reported by Mayhill Fowler, one of our citizen journalists, to dozens of stories by our political team that had an impact on the news cycle. More recently, HuffPost’s Senior News Editor Nico Pitney kept a constantly-refreshed, nearly-around-the-clock “liveblog” covering the uprising in Iran. It was a great example of something the new media does best – cover a story obsessively, aggregating the best available news and information, from tweets to cell phone video uploaded by ordinary Iranians to stories by major news outlets, all in real time. It has been a must-read for anyone interested in what’s happening in Iran.

What is the Investigative Fund and what do you hope it will achieve? 

As the newspaper industry continues to contract, one of the most commonly voiced fears is that serious investigative journalism will be among the victims of the scale-back. And, indeed, many newspapers are drastically reducing their investigative teams. Yet, given the multiple crises we are living through, investigative journalism is all the more important. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund’s goal is to produce a broad range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers, with a focus on working with the many experienced reporters and writers impacted by the economic contraction. The pieces will range from 
long-form investigations to short breaking news stories and will be presented in a variety of media including text, audio and video. 

How is Huffington Post working to ensure profitability as an online-only site?

We are focused on expanding our audience and attracting advertisers interested in reaching that audience. Ad revenue for the site has been strong and it continues to grow.

Aside from the Investigative Fund, what are the next steps in new media accepting some of the best practices of old media that you have spoken about?

The Huffington Post is continuing to direct resources into our original reporting. Our two most recent hires were Dan Froomkin and Jose Antonio Vargas from the Washington Post. Dan will be working with our original reporters, regularly blogging the news and working with our Eyes and Ears citizen journalism team to access the wisdom and knowledge of our community. And Jose is responsible for our recently launched Technology vertical (site section) and will report on all the ways innovations in technology impact our lives. He will also play a key role in helping us continue to innovate from leveraging social networking to expanding the ways we use citizen journalism. Leveraging the power of our community is something I’m particularly excited about; Nico Pitney’s liveblogging about Iran showed how powerful citizen journalism can be when harnessed effectively.

Arianna in Congress on…

CONTENT HOARDING

“When I hear the heads of media companies talking about ‘restricting’ content or describing news aggregators as ‘parasites’, I can’t help feeling the same way I did in 2001, when I was one of the co-founders of The Detroit Project, and watched as the heads of the auto industry decided that instead of embracing the future they would rather spend considerable energy and money lobbying the government for tax loopholes for gas-guzzling behemoths, fighting back fuel efficiency standards, and trying to convince consumers through billions in advertising that SUVs were the cars that would lead America into the 21st Century.”

THE DEATH OF NEWSPAPERS           

“In spite of everything, I think the obituaries for newspapers we’re hearing are premature. Many papers are belatedly but successfully adapting to the new news environment. Plus, it’s my feeling that until those of us who came of age before the internet all die off, there will be a market for print versions of newspapers. There is something in our collective DNA that makes us want to sip our coffee, turn a page, look up from a story, say, ‘Can you believe this?’ and pass the paper to the person across the table. Sure, you could hand them you BlackBerry or laptop but it’s not the same.”

(Testimony delivered to US Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, May 6, 2009) 

Arianna Huffington is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Huffington Post, a nationally syndicated columnist, and author of 12 books. She is also co-host of “Left, Right & Centre,” public radio’s popular political roundtable program.

Lane Hudson is Director of Integrated Media in Brunswick's Washington DC office and a HuffPost blogger. Hilary Rosen, Brunswick Washington's Managing Partner, was the site's Political Director in 2008 and still serves as an editor.