The Huffington Post will soon publish the first article of a new longform venture captained by two former editors of The New Republic who left amid the magazine’s public turmoil late last year.
Greg Veis and Rachel Morris, who are now executive editors at the AOL-owned company, have spent the last several months working on the forthcoming initiative, HuffPost Highline. It will deliver once-a-week installments of deep-dive journalism in the mode of a newspaper’s weekend magazine. The first article will be timed to the celebration of The Huffington Post’s upcoming 10-year anniversary in early May. After that, the editors will spend about a month readying other articles for Highline’s full-time debut.
“What we’re focusing on is the magazine-style stories, which is both something that’s richly reported, but where there’s also a lot of emphasis on the style of the writing, the reading experience,” Morris said.
Highline is the latest effort from an expanding news outlet that has lately sought to deepen its commitment to in-depth journalism. In March, CNN reported that HuffPost was planning to create documentaries in addition to scripted shows and “branded entertainment.” A January staff memo from founder Arianna Huffington announcing the hire of Veis, Morris and former New Republic staffer Jonathan Cohn noted the company’s growing focus on longform and investigative journalism.
Morris and Veis settled on the HuffPost Highline name because they wanted the title to connote feelings of breathing space, a weekly respite that rises above the crush of information on the Web. Most pieces will likely be between 5,000 and 6,000 words, but both editors are open to stories that don’t strictly adhere to those constraints.
In developing the concept, Morris and Veis imported a few ideas from print magazine journalism, such as fixed publication schedules, to impose a kind of editorial discipline and consistency. Both editors also say they’ll push for concise stories.
“We obviously have infinite space, but we’re editing as if we only had three spreads and art in a magazine sometimes,” Veis said. “It has got to be as tightly edited as possible.”
That same editorial rigor will apply to HuffPost Highline’s use of multimedia content, Veis said. Although the initiative will avail itself of video and interactivity to help tell stories, the focus will be on paring each piece down to its absolute essentials.
Highline isn’t The Huffington Post’s first shot at building a team to produce deeply reported stories. In 2009, Huffington announced The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, a nonprofit venture that aimed to tackle “a wide-range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers.” In 2010, that effort was absorbed by the Center for Public Integrity, along with some of its grants and financing.
In advance of Highline’s launch, Veis and Morris say they’ve focused on building a stable of contributors and full-time staffers that will get the venture off the ground. In the early days, Veis says he felt like a “hilarious car salesman” delivering the same pitch to writers he admired inside and outside of The Huffington Post, trying to sway them to write for HuffPost Highline. He says many journalists have been receptive to the idea of contributing (mostly on a per-article basis right now), and that they’re close to setting up larger contracts with some likely contributors. They’re building out a team that includes some back-end talent in addition to a fact-checker and a multimedia managing editor. Rather than try to grow the team to a specific head-count, Morris says they’re trying to focus on finding people with the skills they need.
As they approach launch day, both editors say they aren’t measuring success on the number of visitors who view their stories. Rather, their goal is to create a spot on the Web that develops a reputation for consistently producing high-quality content, a place that readers trust.
“We want the floor to be such that people will show up every week and realize: This is where good stories get told,” Veis said.