A Blog That Made It Big

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 9, 2007

NEW YORK -- In the high-ceilinged SoHo offices that once housed an art gallery, Rachel Sklar is juggling a slew of stories destined for the virtual pages of the Huffington Post.

There's her interview with author Gay Talese, an analysis of the Obama Girl video spoof, a look at all the iPhone hype and an assessment of Us Weekly's bold publication of a Paris Hilton-free issue. Sklar's provocative writing has drawn the attention of New York's gossip blogs (which keep obsessing on her bosom).

"Everyone's amused by the attention I get," says Sklar, who edits the Eat the Press section. "I'm 34. If it's going to immortalize me as an ingenue, that's fine."

The former lawyer is one of 45 mostly young staffers toiling here, up from six when the Web site launched two years ago. Ken Lerer, the Huffington Post's co-founder, encourages her to appear on television.

"I keep saying to Rachel, 'Become more visible. Be the Arianna of the media page,' " Lerer says.

Few people, of course, are as visible as Huffington, the author turned activist, conservative turned liberal and California gubernatorial candidate turned online entrepreneur. When she launched her group blog in 2005, skeptics dismissed it as a vanity outlet for her and her Hollywood friends. But the Huffington Post has become an undeniable success, its evolution offering a road map of what works on the Web.

The most notable change is that HuffPost has morphed from a left-leaning site with a modest conservative presence to a pugnaciously liberal operation in which the banner headlines and majority of bloggers holler about the latest outrage perpetrated by the Bush administration.

"We are opposed to the war in Iraq," Huffington says from her Los Angeles home. "We think the troops should come home. The headlines are going to reflect what is in the best interests of the country."

As Lerer puts it: "Attitude is a huge positive, not a negative. People don't have to love you. Maybe people come to you because they don't love you."

After President Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence last week, HuffPost put up 15 blogs -- every one of them critical -- including one from Huffington and another by Russell Shaw headlined "President Bush, You Are a Disgrace to My Flag."

Beyond ideology, though, the Huffington site has succeeded through its relentless updating, serving up links to all manner of news and entertainment in a manner pioneered by conservative cybergossip Matt Drudge.

"We could not have existed without Drudge," Huffington says. "Drudge habituated people to going online for their news." Editors constantly monitor the traffic, keeping popular items up and yanking those that attract fewer readers.

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