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A Blog That Made It Big
The site has benefited from content-sharing partnerships with the gossipy TMZ.com, People, Rolling Stone, Variety, Yahoo and Josh Marshall's popular liberal salon, Talking Points Memo. This represents a sea change, says Huffington, from the days when the mainstream media were reluctant to share content with other online sites.
Huffington Post readership has roughly doubled in two years, with the site claiming 3.5 million visitors per month, although independent ratings services put the figure far lower.
To accommodate the flood of copy, Huffington has redesigned the site, creating separate home pages for such subjects as politics, media, entertainment and business. She says her contributors "also wanted to write about movies and books and sex and health, and it was hard to fit it all in." And the best outsiders posting comments will now be elevated to blogger status.
The initial publicity focused on how Huffington's showbiz pals -- Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Geffen -- would give the group blog a veneer of glitter. "The press went with that because it was a good story to write," Lerer says.
Actually, that was how the site was promoted. These days, as the Huffington Post runs 70 to 80 posts a day, most of the authors -- with a few exceptions, such as Bill Maher, Nora Ephron and Jamie Lee Curtis-- are not boldfaced names. They are largely lesser-known commentators, bloggers, radio hosts and experts, current and former Democratic politicians (Gary Hart, Jack Murtha, John Conyers) and, sometimes, famous advocates (Melinda Gates, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.). Occasionally, Huffington reprints conservative columns by the likes of the Washington Times' Tony Blankley, saying it's important to include them as minority voices.
HuffPost is also venturing into original reporting, hiring such journalists as Tom Edsall, a longtime Washington Post reporter. "They have a very liberal constituency, but say they are looking for straight and credible news," says Edsall, who holds a Pulitzer chair at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. "Arianna has thousands of sources on the left and the right, and she comes up with a lot of ideas."
Huffington says she has recruited more than 1,000 volunteers for a related blog, dubbed Off the Bus, in which citizens will sound off on the presidential campaign.
"We've already seen example after example of what happens when reporters hop on board the same bus -- and the Conventional Wisdom gets passed around like a joint at a Grateful Dead concert," she writes. The antidote, says Huffington, who is teaming up with New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, is "crowdsourcing" -- that is, channeling the wisdom of the masses.
But Off the Bus is unlikely to skid off the liberal track. The project is headed by Amanda Michel, who worked for Howard Dean's 2004 campaign, and Zack Exley, who ran online communications for John Kerry's 2004 campaign.
Even non-liberals may be drawn to HuffPost's slick packaging. Sklar, who says she patrols "the intersection of media, pop culture and political comedy," keeps finding offbeat nuggets, including the revelation that Texas Monthly's cover on "astronaut sex" was perhaps its worst-selling issue ever. She is also capable of finger-in-the-eye writing, such as her response to a prominent Vanity Fair columnist's assertion that women just aren't funny: "Boring, Warmongering Blowhard Christopher Hitchens Adds 'Sexist' to His Résumé."
"I major in media and minor in feminism," Sklar says.
Lerer, a former Time Warner executive and the site's earliest major investor, says the venture continues to raise money from such investment banks as SoftBank Capital. He says the company, which gets most of its revenue from advertising, has drifted in and out of profitability.
"Twenty years ago, it would take 20 years to build a brand," Lerer says. "Today, you can build a brand in a year."
NBC's New Climate
NBC and its cable networks devoted a total of 35 hours of air time Saturday to the Live Earth concerts, organized by Al Gore to call attention to what he calls a global warming "crisis."
The worldwide series of concerts, featuring 150 artists from Madonna to Red Hot Chili Peppers, was also designed to raise money for the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit group chaired by the former vice president. Commercials aired at a reduced rate.
Doesn't this strike a discordant note? Wasn't NBC, whose news division covers the debate over climate change, providing a huge platform for advocates on one side of a contentious issue? And isn't the network helping a prominent Democrat -- who granted "Today" an interview last week in which he was asked again about his presidential ambitions -- raise money?
Dan Harrison, an NBC senior vice president, does not back away from the message. He calls the Gore effort "an initiative we believe in," including parent company General Electric. "I really don't think climate change is a political issue," Harrison says.
"Everyone agrees it's happening. If it's a political issue, it's whether the political will exists to address that change. We know we need to do something, and this is a way to heighten awareness."