July 20, 2008

The HuffingtonPost.com’s meteoric rise in traffic in the past year has caused a lot of people to take notice. What is it about this blog-based site that has made it so successful?

The site, built on Movable Type blogging software, is a mix of news, blogs and commentary on everything from politics and media to business and the environment.

According to Nielsen Online, the site had 4.7 million unique visitors in May, a 255 percent increase from a year earlier, when it had 1.3 million uniques, according to Nielsen Online.

And the site has big plans: it is working on launching local editions, starting with Chicago.

In an e-mail Q&A, co-founder Arianna Huffington talks about the site’s biggest mistake, lessons media organizations could learn from The Huffington Post, and the future of news.

Jon Dube: Why did you start The Huffington Post?

Arianna Huffington: I’ve always enjoyed bringing together people from many different parts of my life and facilitating interesting conversations. These conversations have taken place around dinner tables, or at book parties, or on hikes with disparate groups of friends. With The Huffington Post, the idea was to take those conversations — about politics and books and art and music and food and sex — and bring them into cyberspace, creating a one-stop site for news and opinion, with an attitude, in real-time.

How does The Huffington Post cover the news differently from mainstream media organizations?

Huffington: A lot of the discontent with traditional journalism is because too many reporters have forgotten that the highest calling of journalists is to ferret out the truth, consequences be damned. Unfortunately, this is a concept that has fallen out of favor with too many journalists, who are obsessed with a false view of “balance” and “objectivity” and have become addicted not to the tireless pursuit of truth, but to the tireless promotion of the misguided notion that every story has two sides. And that the truth is supposed to be found somewhere in the middle. But not every story has two sides and the truth is often found on one side or the other. The earth is not flat. Evolution is a fact. Global warming is a fact. And there are definitely not two sides to the proposition that Iraq is our generation’s greatest foreign policy disaster. It is. Period.

HuffPost eschews the misleading “on the one hand, but on the other” approach to news because not every story has an “other hand.” Also, HuffPost doesn’t pretend not to have opinions, but it does make them transparent.

What’s been the Huffington Post’s biggest mistake and what would you have done differently?

Huffington: From the beginning, I would have established a policy of pre-moderating all comments on the site. We started with pre-moderation only on blog posts, since we felt it was important to provide a civil environment for our bloggers (i.e., one where critical comments would of course be allowed but no ad hominem attacks or name calling). Our comments on the news site were originally post-moderated (i.e., objectionable comments were removed only after our moderators were alerted). We eventually decided that it was worth the substantial effort and expense to have human pre-moderation on both blogs and news. At the same time, we pray daily for a new technical innovation that will be able to automatically remove objectionable comments. But no regrets, because even our failures were valuable lessons. For me, failure is not the opposite of success — it’s one of the foundations of success.

What has the The Huffington Post taught you about what the future of journalism may look like?

Huffington: I believe in a hybrid journalistic future where traditional newspapers adopt the best elements of online journalism, and new media sites continue to do more and more of the kinds of investigative reporting usually associated only with traditional media outlets.

What are three lessons traditional media organizations could learn from the The Huffington Post?

Huffington: The value of immediacy, transparency, and the willingness to have a strong point of view.

What tips do you have for people or organizations who would like to start a similar site?

Huffington: Go for it — and don’t listen to your critics. Find your own voice and point-of-view, trust in them, and stick to your guns.

What Web site do you visit as your guilty pleasure?

23/6.com [a humor site Huffington also publishes]. I don’t actually feel guilty about it — but it does give me lots of pleasure.

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Jonathan Dube is the Director of Digital Media for CBC News, the President of the Online News Association and the publisher of CyberJournalist.net. An award-winning…
Jonathan Dube

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