The Blogging Life, Huffington-Style, As 1st Anniversary Nears

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By: Dave Astor

The Huffington Post group blog/news site turns one year old on May 9. With that anniversary approaching, E&P interviewed co-founder/editor Arianna Huffington via e-mail about highlights of the popular site’s inaugural year, how her online work affects her weekly Tribune Media Services (TMS) column, and other topics.

Huffington, who began her print column a decade ago, also has another newspaper connection: Huffington Post excerpts have been syndicated by TMS since September. The package — transmitted on Tuesdays and Thursdays — includes six to eight excerpts a week, plus “bonus” commentaries. (Content can also be purchased on a one-shot basis.) Huffington Post bloggers who frequently appear in the TMS package include Nora Ephron, Walter Cronkite, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., among others.

“Arianna provides a platform that people who aren’t syndicated can use to get their views disseminated,” said John Twohey, TMS vice president for editorial and operations. He added that TMS doesn’t release client totals for its features, but said The Huffington Post package’s list has gradually grown as newspapers become more accustomed to blog content.

Just after this interview was conducted, controversy arose over a blog posting at the site under George Clooney’s name, assembled by her staffers from the actor’s recent comments on Democrats and the Iraq war, and approved by his publicist. Huffington said in the future all posts would come directly from the author.

Here’s E&P’s recent interview with Huffington, edited for space:

Has working on The Huffington Post affected your TMS column in any way?
It’s probably made it less formal and more conversational and bloggy!

You’ll be speaking at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference in Boston early this summer. Why are you doing that?
It’s a great group of people and I love the opportunity to discuss all the ways in which we are all working to integrate new and old media.

What are some Huffington Post highlights since it was launched last spring?
Holding Tim Russert’s — and the rest of the mainstream media’s — feet to the fire. Challenging The New York Times over Judy Miller. Championing creativity on the Internet with our “Contagious Festival” [contest/talent search]. And being able to offer readers the real-time takes of people like Nora Ephron, Walter Cronkite, Larry David, Al Franken, Steve Martin, John Murtha, Norman Mailer, Rob Reiner, John Cusack, Russ Feingold, and on and on and on. Many of these are voices found nowhere else on the Web.

For me, one of the site’s defining moments took place in July … when the bombing happened in London. Several of our top bloggers like Simon Jenkins, the former editor of the Sunday Times, were blogging about what was happening. I remember having my morning coffee and reading my copy of The New York Times, which had a front-page article on London winning its bid to host the Olympics. It was one of those moments that showed us what we could accomplish because with daily newspapers, you have the sense that you’re reading yesterday’s news.

Any low points during the first year?
The only hard part was getting used to the relentlessness of keeping up with a 24/7 news cycle. In the beginning it seemed like I couldn’t catch my breath. But now the pace seems almost normal.

How much traffic do you get?
Since June 2005 … we’ve seen our monthly unique visitors grow more than 350% to 2.6 million. And our monthly page views have grown more than 530% to 24 million.

How much impact does the Huffington Post have?
It’s growing. We’re being quoted and linked to in more and more places. I’m particularly happy with the way we were able to take the lead on some very important stories like Judy Miller’s and Bob Woodward’s involvement in Plamegate. We were there early and stayed on them and linked to other stories and to other blogs, and they linked to us, and we linked back to them.

For example, I first wrote about Bob Woodward on Nov. 16 but then did a more thorough take on the story on Nov. 28. Then Nora Ephron wrote a blog on him that gained a tremendous amount of traction, including being mentioned in Frank Rich’s column and being central to Jay Rosen’s summing up on the story. Her previous post on Mark Felt was also picked up everywhere, from the AP to Kausfiles.

The same thing happened when Norman Mailer blogged about the Koran getting flushed down the toilet. And Lawrence O’Donnell broke the story that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper’s source in a posting on our site in early July.

How many bloggers have you had?
We’ve featured blog posts from over 700 people from the worlds of politics, entertainment, business, media, and the arts.

How many posts have you written?
Four-hundred-seventy-seven as of [March 8]. Sometimes it’s one a day, sometimes it’s a lot more, as with Oscar coverage or Scooter Libby’s indictment.

Do any of your posts, or posts by other bloggers on the site, stand out?
I’m very happy with our Judy Miller/ Plamegate coverage. The mainstream media was portraying her as Judy of Arc. We saw it differently — early and often. I also thought Harry Shearer’s series of of-the-moment posts on Katrina were amazing. It was great to see the way Nora Ephron’s posts caught fire. I also get a kick when I invite someone to blog and then, sometimes months later, an offering from them suddenly pops up on the blog, as happened with playwright Chris Durang. And I love, love, love the humor pieces.

How have you managed to find the time for the blog entries and other work you do for the site?
What I love about blogging is how you can integrate it into whatever you are doing. I constantly carry a BlackBerry with me, so I’m always in touch. The thing is, I don’t find staying connected stressful — I find it energizing. The only time I try to leave it all behind is when I’m with my daughters because they have zero tolerance for multitasking. I think they remember every time I look at my BlackBerry instead of being completely focused on which of the 12 tank tops they’re considering they should buy.

About how many hours do you spend a week on the Huffington Post?
I can’t tell you for fear that my book editors at Little, Brown are reading this! My new book — On Becoming Fearless: Advice for Women — is slated to appear in September.

Is the Huffington Post making a profit or losing money?
We’re well on our way to profitability, which is pretty good given that we’re not even one year old. (The site began accepting advertising last August and brought in its first full-time sales hire in December.)

What changes are planned for the Huffington Post in its second year?
More video, more investigative pieces, more satiric content. More, more, more!

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